Internet Blackout


When millions of internet users clicked the Google logo on January 18 they were linked to this website and asked to sign a petition against PIPA and SOPA. Over 5 million users signed that day.

April Dulsky, Web Editor

Two political bills brought into the public eye by a massive online blackout sparked a clash between media corporations, elected representatives and the public.

The House of Representatives and the Senate in 2011 drafted two bills called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).  According to the New York Times, the bills were drafted to combat online piracy and copyright infringement of movies, music, medication, and more.

“The bills also took aim at American search engines like Google and Yahoo, payment processors like PayPal and ad servers that allow the pirates to function,” according to the New York Times.

According to major websites and media professionals, censorship was the major fear brought on by the current bills as they stand because they carry the potential of removing entire websites, voices and information online.

“The fear would be anyone with an independent voice can be taken away. There is a five years maximum penalty and the argument that they are not going to shut down blogs or websites. If you look at the U.S. history in the brunt of what laws allow you to do, we always go for the maximum,” said Dan Kimbrough, assistant professor of communications.

A massive online blackout swept across the web January 18 in protest of the two bills approaching a vote in the House and Senate.  Thousands of websites and search engines blacked out and redirected online users to information about the bills.

“The blackout, if you went online, which people do, and you Googled something to find it, you couldn’t find the information because it was shut down and said ‘here’s why.’ This is why you don’t have access to information and here’s what happens if these laws were passed,” said Kimbrough. “I think it was one of the most effective boycotts of sorts because it made people realize.”

Some elected officials changed their views from “support” to “oppose” on the bills as the public pushed, through means of phone calls, emails and online petitions, for the representatives to reconsider.  PA Senator Pat Toomey joined the list of representatives who issued an official statement on the day of the blackout about his newly reversed stance on the current PIPA and SOPA bills.

“Piracy of intellectual property is a legitimate concern that should be addressed. However, the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Internet Piracy Act are flawed, and I cannot support them in their current form. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on this issue and finding a better legislative approach for tackling online piracy,” Toomey said.

According to LA Times, 4.5 million people clicked, signed and shared the Anti-SOPA petition.  Many who saw the petition believed the messages were hard to ignore.

“I shared it on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Many people were spreading the word as well on social platforms,” said Gabi Trepper, junior.

Even though the blackout came as a shock for some, others were well aware that the websites were on the verge of protesting.  Some were aware that an online demonstration was imminent.

“I knew it was going to happen a couple days before the actual blackout. There was a huge list of companies like Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia and more,” said Chris Mott, Harvey’s Lake.

The blackout sparked people’s attention by showing the possibility of what the bills’ impact could be, even causing the Senate and House to delay the vote on the current bills. Many believe that delaying the vote will not be enough to stop them from being enforced.

“I don’t think that the blackout really worked because it doesn’t really matter how many phone calls were made to representatives or the government about it,” said Ali Rishkofski, sophomore. “The legislators will try and pass whatever bill they want. It doesn’t really matter what the public says 99.9 percent of the time.”

The Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America helped to support and fund the two bills and this concerned many who understood the imminence of the issue.

“The RIAA had something to do with crafting the law. So you have a corporation invested in making money influencing the government in creation of laws. That would be like Smith and Wesson is allowed to help create gun laws,” said Kimbrough.

The SOPA and PIPA bills are relatively new but laws combating piracy online are not.  Other bills from the present and past have similar regulations that carry the intent of prosecuting people of all ages who infringe copyright laws.

“The government and RIAA were allowed to go in and look at 13 year olds’ hard drives. They were showing up at kids’ houses, commandeering their computers, and saying you downloaded 160,000 songs illegally, technically this is 160,000 counts of copyright infringement,” said Kimbrough.

Even though the two bills attempt to eradicate online copy right infringement, the notion of piracy has occurred since people were able to press record. The ease of tracking piracy is a new addition to multimedia sharing online.

“When I was a kid, I used to take a cassette and put it into the tape player and record radio shows because we were too cheap to go out and buy the tapes. The first album that I ever got was Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, and I think I made four or five copies of it for friends,” said Kimbrough. “They were all copyright infringements. They were just harder to track back then. Now it’s easier to track.”

Many believe that the public outpouring of opposition cannot prevent legislators from passing bills into law.  Some look to the past to understand what can occur in the future of the two bills.

“They will pass it through if we want them to or not.  They regularly pass bills that don’t comply with our laws at all.  Legislators regularly by-pass the constitution and sign whatever they want to sign,” said Mott.

The current bills were shelved after the blackout, but the probability that they will be voted on and passed is the concern of many.  The fickleness of people and the media is the reason some believe that the passing of the bill will occur in a matter of time.

“Because a Kardashian will get a divorce, that will be the biggest thing in the media and we won’t pay attention. Until people stop tuning into reality television and all the other things that don’t matter, and start educating themselves about what’s going on in Congress. It will get passed,” said Kimbrough.