By this time, I’m sure that readers know about the one-day Internet “strike” yesterday, January 18, either by seeing the notices on many prominent sites (including Wikipedia and Google), or from reports in the media. The action was taken to protest against two pieces of legislation that currently under consideration in the US Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA] in the House of Representatives, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act [PIPA] in the Senate. (I’ve written about the PIPA bill before.) Although there are minor differences in the two bills, either would have the effect of setting up a “control system” for the Internet, allowing sites to be blacklisted and removed from the Domain Name System [DNS], with very little in the way of due process. This is proposed in order to prevent the unauthorized copying and distribution of copyrighted or trademarked material.
I will not attempt to describe the details of this legislation, since others have already produced good summaries. Wired has an article explaining some of the reasons for the protest. Google also has a page on the issue, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a three–part article going into more depth. The prime movers behind this legislation are the content producers, especially those represented by the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] and the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America]. They are upset because the advent of digital distribution makes some parts of their traditional business model economically unsustainable.
The protest and other advocacy by the technology industry and others does seem to have had some effect. LAst weekend, the White House issued a statement saying that it would not support the bills in their current form. And just in the last two days, a number of Senators have backed away from support of PIPA.
This is progress, but Congress needs to understand that this kind of legislation, benefiting one specific group while potentially causing great “collateral damage”, is a really bad idea. As Bruce Schneier often reminds us, putting in place the surveillance and censorship mecahnisms of a police state is not good civic hygiene.