On Wednesday, more than 7,000 websites went black to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister legislation, the Protect IP Act. Several congressional sites went dark as well, though not for the same reason: congressional sources said House and Senate staffs were fielding a volume of phone calls not seen since the passage of Obamacare. Government web servers groaned and gave way under the onslaught of roughly three times the average traffic.
Supporters say the two bills would give the U.S. the power to shut down — or at least seriously hamper — online piracy by foreign sites. The two bills are heavily backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, which claims it has lost $250 billion and 750,000 jobs to piracy — claims critics say are wildly inflated.
Critics such as Google and Microsoft say the bills would essentially break the internet, giving the Justice Department the power to shut down sites which allegedly infringe on copyrighted content simply on the accusation, without due process.
The bills have not just corporate titans such as Google and Microsoft up in arms, but groups as disparate as Republican legislators and the ACLU, not to mention the Huffington Post and Glenn Beck, in agreement for what may be the first and last time in history. The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which lobbies for online freedoms, has been amazed at the response. Said EFF Attorney Corynne McSherry:
It’s been pretty interesting to see the wide coalition of people who are against it. They see these bills for what they are — an attempt at Internet regulation which will interfere with our basic freedoms.
McSherry noted that the legislation simply will not put the dent in piracy the lobbyists are saying it will:
The major groups which are lobbying for this are selling their memberships a bill of goods. It’s not going to solve the problem. This is a business problem. When you have a business problem you talk to your business people, you don’t resort to legislation. EFF has long argued that the right answer is a new business model, not legislation.
She also noted the inflated numbers companies use to push for legislation like this:
They count every use that’s not paid for as a lost sale. That’s not accurate.
McSherry noted that individuals who “pirate” music or video games often do so simply to try it out and later buy the album or game. She also said it can hardly be counted as a lost sale, as those who do not later buy the title likely wouldn’t have purchased it anyway.
Google, Wikipedia, and others argue SOPA would censor the internet and kill jobs in one of the few sectors of the economy which is growing:
The U.S. Government could order the blocking of sites using methods similar to those employed by China. Among other things, search engines could be forced to delete entire websites from their search results. That’s why 41 human rights organizations and 110 prominent law professors have expressed grave concerns about the bills.
Law-abiding U.S. internet companies would have to monitor everything users link to or upload or face the risk of time-consuming litigation. That’s why AOL, EBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga wrote a letter to Congress saying these bills “pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation.” It’s also why 55 of America’s most successful venture capitalists expressed concern that PIPA “would stifle investment in Internet services, throttle innovation, and hurt American competitiveness.” More than 204 entrepreneurs told Congress that PIPA and SOPA would “hurt economic growth and chill innovation.”