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Regulating the Internet - SOPA & PIPA

Written by Laurence | 18-Jan-2012 13:36:44

Today, a number of websites including Boing Boing, Reddit and, perhaps most notably, Wikipedia are operating “blackouts” in protest against controversial Anti-piracy legislation currently being discussed by the US Government. Users who try to access these sites during the blackout are unable to view the usual content and are presented instead with a short statement explaining the situation. Google are not joining the blackout, but are running a SOPA themed Google doodle.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have attracted a significant amount of criticism due to the broad language contained within these bills. Previous Anti-Piracy laws have focused on the specific piece of content deemed to have breached copyright. This content could be removed from a site using a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request, which indicates the exact location of the infringing material and provides proof of copyright ownership. In contrast, SOPA and PIPA do not include any detailed guidelines pertaining to the removal of specific content but instead focus on the censorship of links to any domains allegedly hosting copyrighted content.

Commentators have argued that, should this legislation be passed, the U.S Government will be granted the power to block access to any site deemed to be breaching copyright law. The suggested fallout is that existing sites could move their activity away from the U.S and, perhaps more worryingly, smaller start-up businesses could find themselves unable to operate under increasingly stringent regulations.

Even though SOPA & PIPA, in their current forms, look increasingly unlikely to be passed, legislation of the internet seems to have become inevitable. 2011 proved to be a pivotal year for the social internet with the Arab Spring and later, the OWS Protests using websites such as Twitter & Facebook to organise large scale protests and provide real time eyewitness updates of developing news stories. The riots in London also had David Cameron calling for Government powers to shut down sites that could be used to incite unrest. Nobody can deny that the internet is extremely powerful and has become a central technology for many business areas as well as becoming an increasingly prominent part of our personal lives. As such, it comes as little surprise that legislation of this type is being sought. The scope and influence of this legislation remains to be seen and therein lies the concern.

What do you think? How should the Internet be governed? Can it be governed?