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The Protect IP Act (PIPA) is a U.S. Senate bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy. Along with its House counterpart Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bills are designed to provide the government and copyright holders with powers to block access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods,” especially those registered outside the United States. Since its introduction on May 11th, 2011, the proposed bill has been met by opposition from various digital rights activists and bloggers for its encroachment in online activities protected under the first amendment of free speech. Congressional hearings for both bills began on November 16th.
If passed by Congress, Protect IP Act would allow the government to curb public access to websites that have “no significant use” other than infringing copyright, enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. It would also make unauthorized media streaming an act of felony and hold the web publishers and hosting services responsible for curbing their users from posting copyright-infringed content.
In addition, Stop Online Piracy Act would effectively rid of the safe harbor provisions in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content upon notice. Under strict interpretation, a wide range of online communities and social networks including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook would have to censor users or get shut down and ordinary users could be imprisoned for five years or posting any copyrighted work.
The legislation has been opposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Yahoo!, eBay, American Express, Google, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. EFF’s blog post titled “What’s On the Blacklist?” listed media-sharing services Vimeo and Flickr and e-commerce community Etsy as websites that could be put at risk under the Stop Online Piracy Act. Fight for the Future published a 3-minute infographic video explaining the basics of the bills and their impact on everyday activities of online interactions.
A number of online entrepreneurs like Reid Hoffman of Linkedin, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams and Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley signed a letter to Congress expressing their opposition to the legislation.
December 15th: Markup Hearing of SOPA
On December 15th, The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held a meeting for markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was met by much divided opinions on the bill. According to Politico, the markup debate didn’t break down by partisanship, but a number of Democrat and Republican Representatives including Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Dan Lungren (R-California) argued that the bill was being processed in a rush in the absence of input from technical experts regarding the legal impact of SOPA on the structure of the Internet.
On the other side of the line, Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Howard Berman (D-California) argued for an immediate measure to protect copyright holders from sites that profit from offering illicit and illegally copied content.
“All we’re trying to do here is stop online piracy. Since when did opposition get so fierce against this? What could be behind the motives of people or organizations that don’t think stopping online piracy is something that we need to deal with?” Conyers said.
Meanwhile, the all-day marathon hearing of the bill abruptly came to a temporary halt when Representative Shiela Jackson Lee (D-Texas) raised issue with a tweet that was posted by congressman Steve King (R-Iowa). According to CNET, Representative King wrote via his Twitter account:
We are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and Shiela Jackson has so bored me that I’m killing time by surfing the Internet.
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) December 15, 2011
Upon discovering the mention of her name in King’s tweet shortly after, Jackson Lee responded to the tweet on congressional record that it is inappropriate “to have a member of the Judiciary committee be so offensive.” When the House Judiciary Committee’s senior member Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) suggested that the clerk expunge the word “offensive” from the official transcript, Jackson Lee repeatedly refused to agree before finally permitting the replacement of the word “offensive” with “impolitic and unkind.”
Alternative Proposal: OPEN Act
An alternative version of the bill known as the Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act) was proposed by a bipartisan group of congressman during the hearing, which would utilize the International Trade Commission (ITC) as the authoritative venue for enforcement of copyrights and trademarks against foreign-based rogue websites that are outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), the alternative bill as explained on KeepTheWebOpen.com states:
“The OPEN Act is built to protect creative ownership in America while securing the open, accessible Internet you deserve. We’re going further by actually opening up the legislative process with a new tool named Madison.”
January 14th: White House Opposes DNS Block
In an official blog post on January 14th, White House cyber-security czar Howard Schmidt and two other officials responded to the official anti-SOPA petitions, which has received over 100,000 signatures combined, by stating that the administration will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression and increases cybersecurity risks, particularly measures that will involve manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS) to block services.
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.
The statement by White House officials quickly spread through the newsvine and blogosphere. Following the official statement, Newscorp CEO Rupert Murdoch took his reactions to Twitter where he expressed his criticisms of Google and the current administration:
Murdoch, who is an outspoken supporter of anti-piracy bills, asserted that White House’s response was made to appeal Google, the company that he accuses of indexing sites offering illegal downloads of copyrighted material.
January 15th: SOPA Hearing Postponed
After sponsors of the bill agreed to remove a controversial provision requiring service providers to block access to users by manipulating the Domain Name Service (DNS), it was reported by several news agencies including New York Time that another hearing of SOPA will be shelved indefinitely until a clearer consensus could be reached. According to the statement released by House Oversight Chairman Representative Darrell Issa:
“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. …Majority leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build a consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.”
October 19th: Free Bieber Campaign
On October 19th, 2011, “Free Bieber” campaign was launched by Fight for the Future. According to the satire website FreeBieber.org, Justin Bieber could be technically sent to prison for the videos he had uploaded to YouTube prior to stardom.
A new bill in Congress makes posting a video containing any copyrighted work a felony-- with up to 5 years in prison. But wait… didn’t Justin Bieber get famous by posting YouTube videos of himself singing copyrighted R&B songs? Yep. If this bill passes, he could get 5 years in jail.
November 16th: American Censorship Day
In a joint effort to raise the awareness of the congressional hearings scheduled to begin on November 16th, a day of online protest dubbed “American Censorship Day” was launched on the same day at 12:00 a.m. (ET). Organized by EFF and a network of supporter groups including Free Software Foundation, Fight For the Future and Creative Commons, the campaign asked its participants to place a censorship badge over the site’s logo in display of solidarity against the legislation of the bill. On Twitter, participants of the protest tweeted links to their websites with the hashtags #sitecensored, #dontbreaktheinternet and #blacklist.
Some of the notable partipants in the American Censorship Day include a wide range of online communities like Wikimedia, Reddit, Tumblr, Mozilla, BoingBoing and Creative Commons among others. On Reddit, an official announcement titled “Stop the ridiculous PROTECT IP Act right now. Sign this petition for the love of the internet” was posted on the frontpage. Tumblr also took part in the protest by censoring dashboard content in black and providing a link with contact information of U.S. Representatives.
On the next day, Fight For the Future published an infographic chart illustrating the turnout of American Censorship Day, which reported over 6,000 participating websites, over 1 million e-mails and over 3,000 handwritten letters sent to Congress about the bills. According to a tweet posted from Tumblr’s Twitter account, an average of 3.6 calls per second was observed during its peak.
California Representative Zoe Lofgren (D) also participated in the American Censorship Day by displaying the badge on her homepage. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi also revealed her stance against the bill via Twitter, in responding to a tweeter who asked: “Where do you stand on internet censoring and #SOPA?” Pelosi’s tweet was also mentioned by California Republican congressman Darrel Issa, who suggested in an interview with The Hill newspaper there’s little hope for the legislation of Stop Online Piracy Act.
December 10th: Wikipedia’s Strike Proposal
On December 10th, 2011, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales asked the readers’ opinions on a potential blackout of the website in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In an impromptu straw poll launched on his user talk page, Wales announced that while there are no immidiate plans to blank out Wikipedia, he noted the Italian Wikipedia blank out in early October 2011 as a precedent, in which the parliament backed down on the privacy law after Italian Wikipedia took all of its pages offline.
December 11th: I Work For the Internet
On December 11th, 2011, a single topic blog titled “I Work for the Internet” was launched to compile a long list of user-submitted webcam portraits in display of solidarity against the legislation of SOPA. Launched by one of the central anti-SOPA protest organizers Fight for the Future, the photo project has drawn participation from a number of notable people in online media, including TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld, Tumblr co-founder David Karp and designer Peter Vidani, early Facebook developer Dave Morin, Vimeo’s co-founder Zach Klein and Texts from Last Night Co-founder Lauren Leto among others.
The news of the site was covered by The Atlantic in an article titled “A Web Celebrity-Spotting Guide to the Latest Anti-SOPA Site.” Gawker also covered the news with a hint of criticism towards its vanity-driven nature.
December 22nd: GoDaddy Boycott Campaign
On October 31st, 2011, TechDirt and the Domains both published articles stating that Christine Jones, the general counsel and corporate secretary from GoDaddy.com submitted a piece to Politico stating the company’s support of SOPA, then called the E-Parasite Bill. TechDirt countered the statement by posting screen shots of how GoDaddy itself encourages people to violate SOPA by suggesting domain names that would infringe on other established sites’ copyright and name trademarks. The day before the bill was set to be heard in the House ON November 15th, GoDaddy filed an official statement breaking down exactly why they were supporting SOPA, claiming that “there is no question that we need these added tools to counteract illegal foreign sites that are falling outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement.”
This information was relatively unknown until December 22nd when Redditor selfprodigy posted about GoDaddy’s statement to the Politics subreddit, suggesting GoDaddy users move their domains on December 29th to protest the company’s support of the bill. In response, CEO of Zferral Jeff Epstein provided a step-by-step guide on how to transfer domains from GoDaddy to another host and Fight For the Future launched a special pledge page for the would-be boycotters.
A number of major Internet companies vowed to drop their GoDaddy accounts including Wikipedia and the image hosting service Imgur. Additionally, Cheezburger’s CEO Ben Huh stated that he would move the company’s 1000+ domain names off of GoDaddy if they did not change their stance on the bill. The news quickly spread to The Escapist, Ars Technica, Gizmodo and the International Business Times.
Following the news coverage of boycott campaign on December 23rd, GoDaddy released a statement by CEO Warren Adelman announcing that they will no longer be supporting the act and pulled down a post outlining the reasons they had previously supported it:
“Fighting online piracy is of the utmost importance, which is why Go Daddy has been working to help craft revisions to this legislation – but we can clearly do better… It’s very important that all Internet stakeholders work together on this. Getting it right is worth the wait. Go Daddy will support it when and if the Internet community supports it."
Despite GoDaddy’s decision to withdraw its support for SOPA, Internet users reportedly waged the boycott campaign with an estimated figure of over 37,000 domains dropped within the first 48 hours and over 70,000 domains by December 29th, including the internet culture blog BuzzFeed. Many news publications and blogs reported on the phenomenon as the Internet users’ punishing GoDaddy for their “flip-flop” stance on the bill.
December 29th: Nuclear Option Rumors
On December 29th, CNET published an article about a possible “nuclear option” that would have other popular online websites like eBay, Google, Facebook and Twitter join Wikipedia in a simultaneous blackout urging users to contact their congressional representatives to stop SOPA and Protect IP. NetCoalition leader Markham Erickson was questioned about the blackout rumors and revealed that “there have been some serious discussions about that.” The following day, articles appeared on Fox News, the International Business Times and the tech blog Geekosystem examining how successful the proposed tactic would be.
The New York Tech Meetup, an organization of nearly 20,000 people who work in the technology industry throughout New York City, is planning a protest on January 17th outside the Manhattan offices of New York Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, who co-sponsored some of the proposed legislation.
January 4th: Chaos Communication Congress
On January 4th, a team of hacktivists gathered at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, Germany and announced a plan to launch satellites into orbit to put the Internet beyond the reach of censors. The story was covered by the BBC and questioned hacker activist Nick Farr about the purpose of the satellites:
“The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said. He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.
The Hackspace Global Grid hacker hobbyist group was subsequently formed to “understand, build and make available satellite based communication for the hackerspace community and all of mankind.”
January 10th: #BlackoutSOPA
On January 10th, 2012, SF Gate published an article about the #BlackoutSOPA Twitter campaign in which Twitter users changed their profile images to have black banners captioned with “STOP SOPA” in protest of the bill. Users had been using the BlackoutSOPA web application that automatically edits the Twitter profile picture after being given access to the account.
The same day, Reddit announced on their official blog that they would be blacking out Reddit on January 18th from 8am to 8pm EST, the same day Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian would be testifying before congress.
Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action. We will showcase the live video stream of the House hearing where Internet entrepreneurs and technical experts (including Reddit co-founder Alexis “kn0thing” Ohanian) will be testifying.
On January 16th, Wikimedia founder Jimmy Wales announced that the English-language Wikipedia will be participating in a 24-hour blackout on January 18th, joining the pledges of several other Internet companies like Reddit, Cheezburger, Wordpress, Zynga and Mozilla among others. The 24 hour shutdown of Wikipedia will be replaced with instructions on how to reach out to your local US members of congress:
January 12th: SOPA Sponsor’s Copyright Infringement
On January 12th, Vice Magazine published an article titled “The Author of SOPA is a Copyright Violator,” pointing out that Congressman Lamar Smith had used a nature photograph as a background image for his website without the artist’s permission, as shown in an archived screenshot from July 24th, 2011. Upon tracking down the photographer DJ Shulte who took the photograph, it was discovered that no request for permission was given.
On the following day of the post, Vice launched an open campaign known as “Shop a SOPA” Copyright Hypocrite Hunt in order to catch other copyright infringement associated with supporters of the bill.
January 18th: Blackout Protests
At midnight on January 18th, the English version of Wikipedia went offline and Google featured a censored out logo on its homepage, linking to its own call for action page in protesting against PIPA and SOPA. The well-known tech blogs BoingBoing went offline for the day and Wired blacked out its text on the frontpage. The blogging platform Wordpress also featured a grid of “censored” thumbnails in place of the regular blog thumbnails. Mozilla featured a similar call to action on its homepage. Reddit also participated in the blackout protest, going offline for 12 hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Cheezburger sites went dark with a pop-up message encouraging visitors to contact senators regarding the bills. The reverse image search engine Tineye also went offline in protest. Image hosting service imgur also went offline. Quickmeme posted a bulletin message with links to external pages on homepage.
The news of websites’ blackout protests were immediately picked up by CNN, New York Times and other news agencies, including several mainstream publishers who have written little about the ongoing debate in Congress. On the following day, the organizers behind the protest released a report explaining the turnout in numbers: at least 115,000 websites participated in the strike, 10 million signatures were signed to Google’s homepage petition and over 3 million e-mails (excluding ones sent from Wikipedia) were sent to Congress. In addition, thousands of demonstrators attended real-life protests in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere.
January 20th: SOPA / PIPA Hearings Postponed
On January 14th, CNET reported that senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked to postpone the vote on PIPA:
“We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation.”
On January 18th, the New York Times reported that congressmen Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX) had abandoned support for the bill. The same day, the LA Times reported that co-sponsors of SOPA Lee Terry (R-NB) and Ben Quayle (R-AZ) pulled their names from SOPA House bill.
By January 20th, seven co-sponsors of PIPA and a total of 45 Senators had either withdrawn their sponsorships or opposed the legislation of the bills, according to a count by OpenCongress. Later that day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement indefinitely postponing the vote on SOPA and PIPA, originally scheduled for congressional hearings on January 24th.
In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act #PIPA. There’s no reason that legitimate issues raised about PROTECT IP can’t be resolved. Counterfeiting & piracy cost 1000s of #jobs yearly #pipa. Americans rightfully expect to be fairly compensated 4 their work. I’m optimistic that we can reach compromise on PROTECT IP in coming weeks.
Search queries for “internet blacklist”, “protect ip” and “stop online piracy” rose dramatically in October 2011.
Electronic Frontier Foundation – What’s On the Blacklist? Three Sites That SOPA Could Put at Risk
KeepTheWebOpen – OPEN: Online Protection & ENforcement of Digital Trade Act
International Business Times – GoDaddy.com’s Support for SOPA Draws Heat from Competitors, Web Users
Jeff Epstein – A Step-by-Step Guide to Transfer Domains Out Of GoDaddy
International Business Times – Will Facebook, Google and Twitter Blackout the Internet?
New York Times – Web Protests Piracy Bills, and 4 Senators Change Course