PIPA/SOPA Blackout

January 18, 2012

Here’s an excerpt from CCIA President & CEO Ed Black’s CNN interview — see above or the text of the story below:

(CNN) — “Imagine a world without free knowledge”. Those are the words on the home page of Wikipedia, which has taken down its website as part of a coordinated political protest supported by websites including Google, Minecraft and Boing Boing.

They’re criticizing proposed legislation in the United States that would block access to sites containing copyrighted material. Media organizations supporting the bills say piracy costs them billions… But Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales says free speech is at risk.

The proposed bills have created a storm of debate online about what impact they would have on the future of the Internet.

It is a black and ominous warning that reads like a movie trailer. On Wednesday Jan. 18, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, along with user submitted news site REddit, blog Boing Boing and the Cheezburger Network of comedy sites all plan to go black to protest anti-piracy legislation that is up for debate in the U.S. Congress.

Dual bills known as SOPA and PIPA, short for Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect I-Pact, target overseas sites which allow users to share illegal downloads of movies and other digital content.

Since it is hard for U.S. companies to actually shut down foreign sites the new laws aim to cut off access, by requiring U.S. search engines, advertising networks and other providers to withhold their services.

The technology industry agrees piracy is a problem, but says these measures go too far. Ed Black, president and CEO of Computer & Communications Industry Association says, “You don’t want companies to be absolutely liable for everything that somebody may post on their site. If you think of Facebook, if you think of Twitter, if you think of Google and Ebay, etc – people put things on to company sites and companies can control that, well they could, by censorship and that’s what we want to avoid”.

Media companies, including CNN’s parent Time Warner, support the legislation. The Motion Picture Association of America says, “…neither of these bills implicate free expression but focus solely on illegal conduct, which is not free speech.”

Newscorp chairman Rupert Murdoch has been even more cutting in his criticism. Tweeting over the weekend, he said, quote, “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”

Piracy is not a new issue, but the solidarity the tech industry is largely showing for this legislation is a change, and industry watchers say it has helped them galvanize public opinion. Julianne Pepitone with CNNMoney.com says, “Tech companies did a good job of trying to boil all of it down into sort of one sentence saying it’s going to break the internet. this is going to ruin the internet as we know it; really, really strong statements. it’s been a great way to make it a lightning rod, the same way that Occupy became something that people will spread comments all over the internet; writing on newswebsites, their blogs on Twitter, on Facebook and SOPA is now becoming similar in that it’s a really lightning rod word and people are taking it and running with it”.

The escalating debate has slowed the process in Washington. A House hearing scheduled for Wednesday has been postponed, but both sides vow to fight on to protect what they see as essential aspects of their business.

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