What is the S.O.P.A controversy and why does it matter?

Chelsea Doyle

The internet has been a tense environment the past week, and that is entirely due to the S.O.P.A (Stop Online Piracy Act) and P.I.P.A (Protect IP Act) bills making their way to the U.S. Congress. Several of the major websites began blacking out as a protest of what could have given the government the ability to censor and cut online activity at its discretion. Google and Facebook did not take part in the full black out, although they did put black bars on the site to show their support.

Due to the overwhelming response, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (website here) and several of the former supporters of the bill have all backed off for the time being.  Rubio was a significant change since he is the co-sponsor of P.I.P.A, so him changing his mind was a huge win for the protestors. He agreed that perhaps rethinking and wording the bill will help them find a middle ground so that First Amendment rights are not violated, but copyright laws are enforced.  None of Maine’s representatives or senators support the bill in its current form.

What people on the outside might be wondering is, what the heck does all of this mean? The internet is still relatively new, which means laws to regulate it are only starting to catch up. Piracy and copyright infringements are big issues. With television shows, movies, and music being illegally transferred all over the internet, their owners have been understandably dismayed at the potential loss of profit. Napster was one of the big first cases of file sharing becoming a problem. The government has tried to limit and arrest the people they catch violating copyright laws, but the internet is a free source of information most of the time; once it is out there, it is impossible to control.

Even the casual internet user can acknowledge that piracy can get out of hand, and there are some inherent dangers in that amount of knowledge being freely and quickly moved around the world. WikiLeaks, for example, caused a big stir recently due to publishing secret and privileged information. Some people might agree that regulation might need to be in place, but many felt the S.O.P.A and P.I.P.A bills were too stringent, allowed too much censorship and violated people’s First Amendment rights. Even Republican Mitt Romney came out and stated he thought it was a violation.

For now the supporters of the bill probably will take a step back and start to rewrite. They will try to give concessions but hold the ground of the things they feel strongest about. It may never work in their favor, because the internet will always find loopholes. And it gets stronger every day.

On Jan. 19, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted seven people and two companies in connection with the site Megaupload.com, a major online service for file storage and sharing. The website makes a great deal of money and yes, there are many files uploaded and shared on there that are considered copyright infringement. This caused a stir all over the world since the companies involved – and the people indicted – live everywhere. Since this was so soon after the black out in protest of S.O.P.A and P.I.P.A, it was reacted to strongly by the hacker community. Almost immediately, the online hacker group Anonymous warned in a tweet that there was going to be a response. A few minutes after that, several major websites were knocked down, including justice.gov, copyright.gov, mpaa.org, riaa.org,  and universalmusic.com, all places who probably had a hand in the removal of Megaupload.com.

It was a flexing of power by the online force, showing the government that drastic measure can be taken, and this will not be the end of it. S.O.P.A and P.I.P.A will come up again, perhaps in a different form, and piracy will constantly be a problem for the government and copyright. This may be the beginning of an all-out war between the internet and the government, and there is no telling where it could end up. We will have to wait and find out.

What do you think about the controversy?

New Mashable updates include that Megaupload is back with a new url, and that SOPA is officially dead … for now. Looks like the internet has won this round.