Media Civil War

The new media, led by Wikipedia, Google and reddit, are protesting the proposed anti-piracy legislation, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), that the music and film industries are seeking.

Wikipedia and reddit took Wednesday off, while Google’s masthead showed the logo completely covered with an image of black tape. Media coverage of what Wikipedia is doing has been widespread, with the message going out through thousands of online channels that the legislation would unleash censorship of the Web.

PC World’s summary explains that the bill, aimed at foreign websites that provide users with access to copyrighted material such as films and hit songs, “would allow rights holders to seek court orders requiring payment providers, advertisers, and search engines to stop doing business with an infringing site. In other words, rights holders would be able to request that funding be cut off from an infringing site and that search links to that site be removed. The site in question would have five days to appeal any action taken.”

However, according to foes like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and The Cato Institute, the law provides that the site alleged to be hosting copyrighted content could be shut off from all sources of revenue and would become harder for Internet users to find. Neither piece of legislation does enough to protect against false accusations, they claim. At a minimum, says the EFF, “any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content.” For start-up services, this monitoring chore is so costly that the companies would not survive, they argue.

The primary advocates for SOPA/PIPA include the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. MPAA is headed by former Senator Chris Dodd, D-Conn. In a statement, Dodd called the Wikipedia and Google protests “stunts that punish their users or turn them into corporate pawns … [and] an abuse of power” designed to “intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

Jonathan Lamy, spokesman for the RIAA, tried to make light of the blackout, tweeting that, with Wikipedia unavailable, “somewhere today, a student is doing original research and getting his/her facts straight. Perish the thought.” The comment was later pulled off Twitter.

However one characterizes it, the SOPA blackout has given the legislation’s foes momentum, at least for now. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., both former supporters, have removed their names from the list of sponsors. The SOPA blackout was the top item on Google Trends for much of Wednesday.

~John Stodder, Dolan Co. National Affairs Correspondent

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