I was surprised by how much activity there was yesterday over SOPA/PIPA.
If you’ve been following along you’ll know that SOPA/PIPA are the House and Senate versions of a bill that has been proposed in order to manage the fact that there are a lot of websites that basically help you get copyrighted content for free. I’ve spoken previously about my opposition to this legislation and I made my site “go dark” thanks to a WordPress plugin, to register my displeasure. On MetaFilter we made an interstitial clickthrough page so that everyone coming to the site would see it and would be encouraged to contact their representatives if in the US, or other actions for non-US people. And I knew other sites were doing it, most notably Reddit, but I was surprised personally at just how big it got how quickly.
And by the time I called Patrick Leahy, the guy who was actually responsible for drafting PIPA, and his Montpelier office said they were having technical difficulties and to please call the Burlington office, I knew something was up. And I spoke to a staffer who clearly thought I was some sort of “Hey the internet sent me” person, telling me “It’s not like Google says it is” and seemed surprised though maybe not pleased when I went into the details of what my objections to the law were. And I used the internet like usual, except things weren’t usual. Wikipedia was dark (read this link for some laughs). Reddit was dark. BoingBoing was dark. Cheezeburger network and Craigslist had clickthroughs. Google did a custom logo. In fact I found it a little tough to predict which sites might go dark. The Syracuse iSchool had a very well done page. ALA hadn’t done anything in the morning but thanks to a little nudging, had a message of support up in the afternoon. The protest made the news. Here’s a quick roundup of some screenshots I made, in case you missed some or all of them. And, to bring this full circle, here’s Jon Stewart talking about how this sort of thing just might drive people back to the library.
Ultimately what is interesting to me is what happened. Several legislators changed their votes (check yours here). It was interesting seeing these roll in over Twitter before turning into more official sounding statements later in the day. At last count twenty senators announced opposition to the bill this week. Check this graphic. That, to me, is sort of a big deal.
Original image thanks to Christopher Dombres and Creative Commons licensing.
I oppose SOPA unequivocally; it’s vague, it’s anti-free-speech, and it won’t solve the problem it’s designed to combat. One of the things that is tricky about SOPA–the legislation moving through Congress that threatens to enact stiff penalties for online piracy–is the number of things you need to understand to even understand what it does. I’m very good with computers and I had to spend sometime getting my head around it. I suspect my legislators may not even understand what it means to start messing around with DNS files to essentially take a website “off the internet” if it’s found [through a not-very-confidence-inspiring process] to be hosting infringing content. The website I work for hosts almost no content but links to a lot of things and we could be mistakenly shut down for linking to people who host “illegal” content.
So, I think we need to do a few things: understand how this bill is supposed to work, be clear in our opposition to it as a profession, work with other people to inform and educate others so that people can make their own informed choices. Here is a short list of links to get you started.
- I’m usually not a huge fan of infographics. This one is a very bare-bones outline of what the key points are. Here’s a video that gives a similar explanation. This is a wordy but clear explanation of what DNS is and how it works. This video by Public Knowledge explains how the bill is moving through Congress. Here’s Stephen Colbert explaining some problems with SOPA in his humorous fashion, speaking with Johnathan Zittrain and Danny Goldberg.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very good document entitled How SOPA Affects Students, Educators, and Libraries. Here is a link to a letter from the Library Copyright Alliance expressing serious reservations about the current state of the bill. EFF’s Anti-SOPA Toolkit is a good bullet-pointed list of things you can do.
- If you use the Chrome browser you can use a plug-in like NO SOPA to see when you’re visiting a website run by a SOPA supporter. If you use Firefox, an add-on called DeSOPA has already been created that will allow the computer you are using to access the Internet to use other DNS servers that are outside of US control. I used something similar to this when I was traveling in Dubai so that I could access sites like Flickr.
- Read what other library blog writers are saying about SOPA: Eric Hellman, Peter Murray, Eric Goldman’s link wrap-up, Jimmy the Geek
- Some activist sites: AmericanCensorship.org, KeeptheWebOpen, WhiteHouse.gov anti-SOPA petition, GetYourCensorOn.
I feel that we as a profession need to be understanding this legislation and the mechanisms that it is threatening to dismantle or undermine. When big media companies who already enjoy tremendous market dominance and access to legislators and platforms for distributing their message decide they have their minds set on something, it’s important to balance the playing field.
This site deals with book censorship attempts which actually resulted in some action, even if it was later reversed.
Freedom of speech is for everyone, and includes the freedom to say “I don’t think this belongs in the library,” just as it also includes the freedom to say “sorry, but the library is for everyone in the community, including people who find this book useful” or “I can understand that you wouldn’t want your child reading books on that subject, and I can respect your opinion, but some parents do want their children reading books on that subject.”