SOPA met with opposition

This screen shot of Wikipedia's front page was taken on January 18, when many Web sites went dark to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. Many feel SOPA would violate the First Amendment right of free speech.

Aiste Zalepuga, Co-Editor-in-Chief

When Wikipedia went dark January 18, interest was piqued. Conversations changed gears in many classrooms, and students fretted to finish assignments. Those who did not know quickly found out about the cause of the uproar – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which many view as an act that would repress expression and innovation on the World Wide Web.

On a larger scale, Wikipedia, along with several other major sites, demonstrated the power of the Web and the importance of the freedoms we may have started taking for granted.

SOPA, along with the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA), are two bills in Congress that would make certain Web sites, like Google, block copyright violations. According to Representative Lamar Smith, who introduced SOPA, the intent of the bill is to protect intellectual property.

“Rogue Web sites that steal and sell American innovations have operated with impunity. The online thieves who run these foreign Web sites are out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences. According to estimates, IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs,” Smith said in a press release last October.

“The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue Web sites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.  The bill prevents online thieves from selling counterfeit goods in the U.S., expands international protections for intellectual property, and protects American consumers from dangerous counterfeit products.”

Representative Bob Goodlatte added, “Intellectual property is one of America’s chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors, and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers beyond the reach of current U.S. laws.”

However, many believe SOPA will repress innovation and restrict the right to free speech, which has been openly expressed on the Web.

Signed by three of the site’s administrators, Wikipedia’s statement reads, “It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open Web.”

Freshman Tim Macchi said SOPA infringes on rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“It’s intruding a little bit too much into free speech and right and giving too much power to companies that would easily shut down rising companies that could have broad success,” he said.

“There was a video of a baby dancing, and they shut it down because there was the music behind it. And I just feel that they make enough money; it will be fine if we post a couple of those videos about it on YouTube. I think [SOPA] is a horrible thing that limits free speech and is called something else.”

Strongly supported by the movie industry, one of SOPA’s aims was to protect against pirating. Senior Lucas Stolarczyk said, “It was pushed on by the media industry, like the movies. But what it would have done, basically, if there was any copyright infringement whatsoever, even like in a comment, the entire Web site would shut down.”

Stolarczyk said the bill goes against the idea of the Web.

“It destroys the whole premise of the Internet that is you can say whatever you want; it’s anonymous, and you can get your ideas out. The fact that they challenged this is completely ridiculous,” he said.

“Web sites that were protesting SOPA, [like] Wikipedia, said something like, ‘Stop piracy, not the Internet.’ It makes sense that they could try to stop piracy, but the way that they were trying to go about it was completely wrong.”

Senior Katie Pollan agreed.

“I like the concept; I don’t like the execution. I feel like it’s too much trying to regulate speech, rather than protecting musicians and other artists from having their work illegally downloaded,” she said.

“It was basically designed to black out undesirable sights that the government didn’t like, and I don’t think it should be left to anyone like that, with that amount of power. It’s not safe for the rest of the world. It goes against our traditions and beliefs and what our country was founded on.”

Blacking out for 24 hours, Wikipedia demonstrated the power of the Internet. Not too long ago, videos from Syria were posted on Facebook. Social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, were a driving force of the Arab Spring uprising. This time, senior Artie Brown said Web sites showed the impact they can have on politics once again.

“[People] automatically kind of get a bias about something like SOPA that they had no idea about earlier because of Wikipedia going down. Because all these websites have this bargaining power over the government, if they were to collectively shut down their web sites, there would be a lot of problems,” he said.

“Think of how hard it was to get information the day that Wikipedia was shut down. By shutting down their sites, they sent out a pretty good message to the people that day.”

For those who may have started taking their rights for granted, junior Brice Tilton said SOPA was a good wake-up call.

“It affected a lot of people. I think people realized how crucial it is to have the ability to have free information on the web. I think just the fact that it could be enacted scared some people,” Tilton said.

Within the first couple hours, thousands of citizens were E-mailing lawmakers not to enact this legislation, Pollan said.

“I think this [shows that] we value our freedoms; we value the basis on which our country was formed,” she said.

“I think that if Google and other major sites that stepped up had done things that are of similar sort when other unpopular legislation was passed, then we would probably be looking at a different country right now.”

Though SOPA has been slowed, Macchi said that the reaction to SOPA shows that the American people still really do have a say in their government and can make a difference.

“This sort of broad voice of the people really rising up is really good to shut down this sort of legislation. I think the main thing is that no one really thought that the people were going to protest this much,” he said.

“I think if anything it shows that people do still have the power when they speak up; stuff actually gets done. So, I think that if that happened for other legislative that people are against, then it’s a really powerful thing, and it’s important,” Macchi said.

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