Wednesday, 28 March 2012

SOPA Retrospect

Okay, let me just start by saying this: I know the SOPA issue is in the past. I know I'm jumping on the bandwagon too late. But I just submitted an op-ed on SOPA recently so I might as well post a retrospective now. And don't worry, I'm translating it back into casual terminology, not all the official lingo the assignment called for. But the joke I used at the start was so good / awful (depending on your perspective) that I had to leave it as it was. Alright, here goes.

For those of you not in full knowledge of SOPA, allow me to explain. Soap is a cleaning agent found in the average household bathroom. SOPA is a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that, if passed, would disrupt free expression on the internet.

(Aside) Sorry. I know that was terrible. Now onto the casual part.

If you were to look up the objective of SOPA on Wikipedia or something, it sounds like a good development. "No more illegal download websites putting viruses on my computer right?" Well yeah, maybe SOPA could help out with that, but those aren't the only websites that would feel the effects. At the time, the general consensus of internet users and online organisations, among others, was that the act would mainly affect websites with a lot of emphasis on user generated content. Think YouTube and MemeBase.

Now, don't get me wrong. I can see the innovation behind SOPA. The act was intended to protect intellectual property and prevent online piracy. For example, Doctor Who could legally be hosted on BBC iPlayer as both the website and TV show are owned by the BBC and programs are only added to iPlayer after being shown on a BBC television channel. But on the other hand, if the same show were to be hosted by and watched on a different website, such as putlocker or Mega Video, the BBC would receive no benefit from those views. Hopefully SOPA could prevent that.

As I'm sure many people will remember, on January 18, 2012, many websites and internet users staged a mass protest against the looming bill. I'm pretty sure the Wikipedia blackout ticked off a fair few students who needed it for research. There were well over 700 votes of approval for the blackout and a comparatively minor 104 opposed the opposition. Try making sense of that one. And like I said, it's not only the websites moderators who made their opinions clear. Internet figureheads like Mark Zuckerberg and Chad Hurley sent formal letters identifying their opposition. Even the online community joined in on Facebook, Twitter, discussion forums and the one I remember most, YouTube. One of the channels I'm subscribed to posted a protest video that was just a black screen for ten minutes. I'm a little ashamed to say I didn't watch the whole thing. But it's actions like that that make me proud to be a part of the online community.

But on January 20th the House Judiciary Committee made the decision to postpone passing and consideration of the legislation until something closer to a compromise could be found. So for now, no SOPA.

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