Anyone who visited some of the most well-known sites on the Internet, including Wikipedia, Wired, Reddit, Google, Wordpress, and Tumblr last Wednesday know that January 18th was "Dark Wednesday". For those of you who missed it, all the sites above, and thousands more around the world, blacked out and restricted user access in order to raise awareness of the possible repercussions of U.S. Congress passing either PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act) or SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act).
The Twitter-verse was abuzz with users voicing their dissent of SOPA and PIPA in 140 characters or less – some even turned to humour to make light of the situation by tweeting random #FactsWithoutWikipedia, while others dubbed their efforts as part of #OperationBlackout and an attempt to #savetheweb. More information on the popularity of hashtags used during the SOPA and PIPA protest as well as other stats and information about the January 18th protest can be found in this infographic.
SOPA and PIPA are two very similar bills that were being considered by the U.S. Congress. SOPA is the House of Representatives' version (House Bill HR. 3261) and PIPA was up for consideration by the Senate (Senate Bill S. 968). In their simplest form, SOPA and PIPA aimed to protect intellectual property and curb online privacy. For more information on SOPA, PIPA, and a brief history of American copyright law, check out this TED video of social media theorist Clay Shirky discussing "Why SOPA is a bad idea". A detailed breakdown of SOPA and what the bill actually encompasses can also be found in this article from The Verge.
Last Friday (January 20), Senator Harry Reid, who introduced PIPA to the Senate, announced that the Senate vote on PIPA, which was supposed to take place on Tuesday (January 24), has been cancelled. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, who was the chief sponsor of SOPA also announced that the bill has been postponed. Although no announcements about the future of SOPA and PIPA have been made, proponents of SOPA and PIPA have indicated that an anti-piracy bill of some sort is needed. What this new anti-piracy bill looks like or whether SOPA and PIPA will simply be voted on at a later time remains to be seen.
If PIPA had passed, the bill could have required ISP (Internet Service Providers) to block access to any sites that commit copyright infringement regardless of where in the world they are located. Additionally, media companies would be allowed to sue any sites accused of posting or linking to other sites that are infringing on copyright laws.
Sites like Reddit, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Wikipedia are based on a model where information is openly shared through posts and links. Even a single tweet, link, or post to a site that contains unauthorized copyrighted content could potentially result in these large social networking sites violating PIPA and open them up to a lawsuit. As a result, these social networking sites would have had to police and censor users to ensure no links were being made to sites that commit copyright infringement. Although there is no way of knowing for certain, many protests of SOPA argue that the bill could have dramatically change the way we use the Internet and various social networking sites due to the potential of mass policing and censorship.
According to Michael Geist, a law professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, there are are a few ways Canadians might have been affected by SOPA and PIPA, had they passed. One of them, Geist outlines, is that SOPA treats all .com, .org, and .net domains as domestic U.S. domain names regardless of where the organization is actually based. Additionally, SOPA ignores the fact that IP (Internet Protocol) addresses are assigned regionally rather than domestically and that ARIN’s (the American Registry for Internet Numbers) territory includes not just the U.S. but also Canada and 20 Carribbean nations. In short, the U.S. could claim jurisdiction over many Canadian sites, including www.mycharityconnects.org. You can read more about how Canadians will be effected by SOPA and PIPA in Geist’s blog post "Why Canadians Should Participate in the SOPA/PIPA" protest.
Geist also warns Canadians needs to think about the Copyright Modernization Act (Bill C-11), which is Canada's fourth attempt at updating its copyright legislation and virtually a carbon copy of its predecessor, Bill C-32. Bill C-11 aims to update Canada’s copyright laws and clarify exactly what is and is not legal when it comes to copyrighted content. Both Bill C-11 and C-32 faced immense opposition from critics who claim that the prohibition of recording and copying content protected by digital locks is too harsh. Essentially, under Bill C-11, it would be legal to copy a content from one device to another - say from a CD to an iPod; however, if this content was protected by a digital lock (for example, an encrypted CD or an e-book with a digital signature), the act of copying it would become unlawful. In other words, Canadians would be unable to access legally purchased digital content from more than one device. For more information on Bill C-11 and digital locks, check out Geist's blog post on the topic.
How do you think SOPA or PIPA might have affect your organization? What about Bill C-11? Let us know in the comment section below.