The Internet voiced its objection last Wednesday to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, two proposed bills which would accelerate the governments ability to enforce copyright on the Internet. Hundreds of sites including Google and Wikipedia enforced a day long “blackout” to protest the bills.
“I haven’t seen anything like that on that scale,” said Dwayne Towell, assistant professor of computer science. “Certainly getting Google to respond was pretty unique.”
Along with many websites, students and individuals across the nation took to Facebook and Twitter to protest. Many sites also suggested that individuals contact legislators to oppose the bills.
“I sent an email to my state representatives through Wikipedia and I also signed the Google petition,” said Jack Sorrells, junior computer science major from Waco.
The proposed bill would change the procedures used to enforce copyright law. The government already possesses the power to prosecute copyright infringement, but the bills seek to change current processes.
“Proponents [of the bill] believe the current system isn’t practical for solving the problem. SOPA was designed to require a minimum of legal action for a site to be shut down and to prevent the copying as quickly as possible,” Towell said. “But the public feels like they would have overstepped their bounds if this had passed. That is why I think there has been such a huge ground swell of opposition.”
SOPA and PIPA would remove many of the current systems in the interest of hasty enforcement.
“[With the current system] it is easier for people to start a new file sharing system than it is to start a new court case to stop it,” said Towell. “I can understand their desire for [a new system] but I think it violates many of my rights when it happens without due process.”
Another proposed change would place responsibilities on Internet service providers, hosting sites and search engines to monitor illegal traffic. Currently, these entities can not be charged and all fault is placed on the infringing individual.
However, many of the same people who oppose the bills and their proposed procedures are not opposed to copyright in general.
“I believe that there definitely needs to be some sort of copyright protection,” Sorrells said. “That way artists and other creators have a way to protect their media and get paid. However, I think the bills approached that in a bad many and that there are definitely more preferable options.”
After Wednesday’s protest, the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold SOPA to redraft it and the Senate Majority Leader postponed PIPA.
“Just because SOPA did not pass,” Towell said, “that does not mean that copyright is not still a law and still enforceable. I have to remind students you still can’t copy things just because you want to.”