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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DAY OF ACTION: SOPA, PIPA, OPPONENTS, AND THE META-CRITICS

On January 18th 2012, individuals and organizations in The United States pleaded with their fellow Americans to help stop two Bills – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or PIPA). But the opponents of SOPA and PIPA did not take to the streets for protest, instead the methods of protest – critical mass, call to actions, sharing political relevancy -- took place on the internet.

Zealous opponents of SOPA and PIPA-like policies have been around before SOPA and PIPA were proposed, but it was in the spring of 2011 when their anxiety over the precarious free-internet surfaced. Jordan VanderBeek from San Francisco says his initial reaction was “major members of the government and outside forces influencing the government are hell-bent on taking away our civil liberties to make a buck. The internet's the one good thing our generation's got.”

Introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors, the SOPA bill, if passed, will
“Authorize the Attorney General (AG) to seek a court order against a U.S.- directed foreign Internet site committing or facilitating online piracy to require the owner, operator, or domain name registrant, or the site or domain name itself if such persons are unable to be found, to cease and desist further activities constituting specified intellectual property offenses under the federal criminal code including criminal copyright infringement, unauthorized fixation and trafficking of sound recordings or videos of live musical performances, the recording of exhibited motion pictures, or trafficking in counterfeit labels, goods, or services.”
But opponents of the bill state that it will crush young start-ups and actually be worse for the economy. Google published the following statement “[SOPA and PIPA] would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA.”

At midnight eastern time, opponents of the two Bills began a strike. Wikipedia blocked its English page, Craigslist directed viewers to a black page stating
“STOP PIPA (Senate 968) & SOPA (HR 3261) Imagine a world without craigslist, Wikipedia,Google, [your favorite sites here]...News Corp, RIAA, MPAA, Nike, Sony, Comcast, VISA & others want to make that world your reality. 80 Members of Congress are in their sway, 30 against, the rest undecided or undeclared. Please take a minute to tell your Members of Congress you OPPOSE PIPA & SOPA. CLICK HERE for MORE INFO & EASY ACTION ITEMS. PS: corporate paymasters, KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET!”
before redirecting viewers to their site. Google censored their logo on their search page. And then only seconds later, friends and followees began posting and tweeting incessantly to spread the word. Katie Marie, 22, of San Francisco said “I've seen about half my newsfeed post it today. I've seen websites posting about it for about a week, then there was a like sudden rush this morning”

Rumor has it that the days' online strike was “organized by highly-trafficked websites including Reddit, Google, and WordPress.” Although it is not clear whether the strike was organized formally or if it was the product of a 'follow the leader' generated movement, there seems to be a common message by all supporters – tell your members of congress you oppose PIPA and SOPA. But people are doing more than contacting their members of congress, they're spreading the word.

Vincent Le, an ex-pat in Bangkok, had this to say about why he shared about it on his social media accounts “I posted a well-made, educational video about SOPA because the internet has had a profound influence in my life. A world without free information, for me, is a matter of life and death. It's allowed me to connect to others, gain vital knowledge, make a living as a writer, and ultimately live life to the fullest. I hope that the video will help others understand these events as well as it helped me.”

While an overwhelming sentiment of anti-SOPA & PIPA has gone viral, there are critics of today's event. Some critics are claiming that while they commend individuals on their participation, they want to push participants to be more than 'slacktivists'. According to Steven Rodriguez of Santa Clara “Slacktivists are defined as people who just tweet or share news and petitions but don't take further action. We want the new protesters to take a more active role in politics and understand that everything is connected to the political, economic, and social structure. Bills like SOPA and PIPA react to these structures; these need to be addressed and can't be addressed through signing petitions.”

But what else is there to do? Take to the streets? Boycott the supporters of SOPA and PIPA? While the answer isn't clear there apparently seems to be a lack of options proposed. Perhaps the future will see a creative surge in activism.

While the day of action comes to end, what will be next for PIPA and SOPA and the participants of today's event? Will today be enough to stop PIPA and SOPA? At 11 AM the Los Angeles Times reported that "three co-sponsors of the SOPA and PIPA antipiracy bills have publicly withdrawn their support." And according to The Huffington Post, President Obama "will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet. The White House statement provides a broad critique that largely embraces the arguments of critics of the legislation, such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo.” While the debate over SOPA and PIPA is scheduled to continue sometime in February, where will the citizens of the US that participated in today's event go from here? Will their advocacy fade into history or will today be the beginning of their career in the world of politics?







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