Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Afternoon SOPA Opera

For those unaware, a heated debate is going on on two bills being passed in the Senate and the House of Reps, called the SOPA and PIPA. Catchy names sure, they are very similar to each other.
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011!!) are both aimed at curbing online piracy coming from websites inside and outside US jurisdiction. That includes The Pirate Bay with its servers in Stockholm (already raided) and its backup servers in Belgium and Russia.

Any law like this is bound to create a stir, but a few paragraphs in these laws are creating a furore in the internet community for nearly a month now. Support and opposition has poured in from all sides but it seems the bill isn't likely to pass. Take a small look at the list of opponents and you'll realize this is serious stuff:
Google, Facebook, AOL, Wikimedia, ANONYMOUS (I'll write more about this one coz its exciting!), Yahoo!, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, eBay, Mozilla Corporation, Reddit, Microsoft, StackOverflow, Tumblr, Bloomberg, Zynga etc. Even Al Gore is against it.

In fact, read this! An open letter to the US Congress was signed by 83 Internet inventors and engineers critiquing the bills. Among the 83 were the inventors of ...hold your breath...TCP/IP, IPv6, ICMP, Email, HTTP, RFC, DNS, Arpanet, MIME, OSPF, OAuth, BGP, Multicast and I am not even finished!
So, clearly something is wrong here.

Lets get into the details a bit. Why should we oppose the bill?
SOPA and PIPA both enable the US Govt. to remove and block websites that carry copyright-infringing content and also block the DNS servers [This is what China, Syria and Iran does to block Internet]. But more than the laws, its the provisions that are creating problems. The bills give immunity to ISPs (those who provide internet to users like Airtel, MTNL, Hathway etc.) who block the websites "in good faith" that they "consider" to be rogue. This clearly gives them unprecedented power. Sure if the ISP plays fair and by the rules, nothing will happen. But, worst case scenario?

Another provision is to force search engines to not index websites that serve violating content. And also websites that elucidate how to view blocked content. Even if you posted it as your Status or as a Wall Photo, Facebook will remove the update or remove your account, or risk legal action. Which in turn means, Facebook now has the right to read through user generated content - a big turn off for Privacy Protestors.
Majority of the opposition to the bill comes when you consider the worst-case scenario to all the provisions. So if everything goes according to plan, all innocent websites should be unharmed. But, we hardly live in an ideal world.

After going through a lot of articles, I found this quote to perfectly summarise everything: “the equivalent of being angry and trying to take action against Ford just because a Mustang was used in a bank robbery.”

Should Indians worry about this? I guess so! On two grounds, one being the fact that a lot of high quality pirated content originates from the US itself. The introduction of these bills means you can say goodbye to XYZ S02E18. Another ground being that India is foreign soil to the US and this bill caters to us specifically. Sites like songs.pk that now hosts songs that are owned by American studios like Fox will be shut down.

But most importantly, it messes with our notion of internet, a completely free knowledge-sharing world where everything is available but only hinges on choice. Choice is overrated now, don't you think?

Don't think everyone is opposing the bill. Again...hold your breath...MPAA, Disney, Ford, NBC, Comcast, Pfizer, Merck, Walmart, Dow, Adidas, Bose, 3M, Visa, Capitol Records, McGraw Hill, L'Oreal, Pearson, Penguin etc. Sony also did. Well, Sony's was a sad story really.
Sony came out in support of the Bill and then faced the wrath of Anonymous (How can we forget them?). Haha. Sony Pictures was hacked by Anonymous and they uploaded a threat on YouTube. This is classic Anonymous style. Flashy and stylish. Worded like an action movie on a comic book hero. Swift. Love it!

Tomorrow, 18th January 8AM to 8PM, Wikipedia is shutting down in protest. It sure raises questions on Wikipedia's famed neutrality stance though. So is Reddit and Wordpress (powers 15% of the web!). We're seeing the first large scale protest in 2012, carrying forward a glorious tradition set in 2011. How long will this one last? We'll wait and see.

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