Hitting the pause button on SOPA and PIPA

57926-sopa-opera-count-thumb-200x250-57925.png

Thousands of sites on Wednesday went dark in protest over the controversial and broad nature of SOPA and PIPA, the anti-piracy bills that are being considered in Congress, bringing awareness to millions of web surfers. Just take a look at this Twitter account scanning through the complaints about Wikipedia’s blackout to get a general idea of how many homework assignments went unfinished (there’s some frank language in there, so tread carefully).

Both bills have been critically debated by many within the tech industry over the dangers that the incredibly broad nature of the powers they propose to use against illegal sites hosting pirated material inherently have.

Imagine shutting down a street because someone decided to paint their house with something obscene, and you’ll get the gist of just how broad those powers could be. Never mind that you buy your groceries at a corner store on the same street. That’s just too bad.

Now it looks like the doubts that many have had over both has finally earned some action on Capitol Hill. Or rather, inaction.

According to Reuters, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had decided to delay a critical vote on the bills scheduled for the 24th for the foreseeable future. SOPA and PIPA aren’t dead, but it’s clear that Wednesday had been a wake up call for many of the bill’s supporters…some of whom have withdrawn their support.

And according to ProPublica’s Nerd Blog, opposition in Congress surged following Wednesday’s blackout as you can see in the image above. That number includes a few of the co-sponsors for bills.

Everyone sees eye to eye that there’s clearly a need to deal with piracy. But it’s just as clear that passing legislation with deep, and potentially devastating, flaws is not the way to do it.

SOPA/PIPA Blackout Day

57856-reddit_down-thumb-200x61-57855.jpg

Today is marked with a number of protests across the ‘net in opposition to two bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which is being considered in the House and PIPA (Protect IP Act) which is in the Senate. Over the last few months, there has been a groundswell of opposition from many notable tech giants such as Google and Facebook aided in no small part by a large number of independent individuals concerned over both.

I’m no lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, though the good news is that there is quite a bit of information out there talking points on why both of these are simply bad approaches to the same problem.

On the surface, both bills propose to do the same thing – fight copyright infringement, such as piracy. The problem is that the language in both is so broadly written creating a legitimate concern for potential abuse.

No one is arguing that protecting copyrights is a bad thing. What many are more concerned about is that both of these bills define their powers in such general terms that they can actually stifle open access to information through the collateral damage caused by censorship.

For example. Tech Out like many others has a number of articles focusing on games. If any of the rights holders decides that we’re infringing on their copyrights simply because we have a screenshot of one of their titles, sites like this could be blocked on the internet and starved of hits from search engines which will be required to scrub their results.

Or worse, the San Bernardino Sun’s website could be blocked simply because it hosts Tech Out. Wikipedia, for example, could be attacked in the same way over its entries on musical artists and film despite having so many other articles on different topics. The bills are attacking the same mosquito in a china shop with tanks.

57859-google_blind-thumb-480x354-57858.jpg

Granted, these are extreme examples, but they fall right under what SOPA and PIPA in their current forms will allow. The White House has also sounded off in its concerns over both bills, tacitly disapproving of their approach while not dismissing their intentions.

This debate has also demonstrated how technology has reshaped dialogue in today’s world by uniting so many groups in the fight ahead across the ‘net. Sites such as “Good Old Games” which specializes in selling classic PC titles has joined in the fight from overseas. Groups of individuals that might never have gotten to know each other have pitched in by gathering online to share their ideas on what to do to help educate and simply spread the word on why this matters to a worldwide audience.

It’s a series of small steps, but ones that have sparked plenty of new debate as politicans and individuals of every stripe have voiced their opposition to what both bills fail to effectively and convincingly address making it a fight against censorship that few can afford to lose.