Alex Veeneman, Opinions Editor
Votes on controversial legislation to tackle online piracy were postponed indefinitely by Congress Jan. 20 as protests across the country and on the Web reached a climax.
In a statement, the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the vote on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in his chamber would be postponed.
“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act,” Reid’s statement said.
Almost immediately after that statement was issued, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said a vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) taking place in his chamber would be postponed indefinitely.
“I have heard from the critics, and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said. “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
Protests against SOPA and PIPA were led by Google and Wikipedia amid concerns that the legislation would be a form of censorship. The Capitol switchboard was flooded with phone calls and emails from constituents, with petitions and requests from both sites to reach out to representatives and Senators. According to a report from the BBC, Google’s online petition to help stop action on SOPA and PIPA drew more than seven million signatures.
Calls to Google and Wikipedia for comment were not returned.
Major cities in the U.S. were also sites of protest, including in San Francisco.
“This is not about letting piracy win,” said Jennifer Kirk, a former U.S. Copyright Office specialist who was at the protest. “This is about keeping the Internet free and making Internet users responsible for their actions, not the website providers. This is about steering copyright in a direction it was not intended to go — a way to kill creativity.”
Kirk added that while those against the laws support action against piracy, this won’t accomplish it.
“It’s a good intention that has been put into poor actions,” Kirk said. “[The laws] just won’t censor Americans, but it will have a domino effect worldwide.”
Marsha Knight, who was also at the protest, says the Internet has reached an exciting point, mostly because of social media.
“I love to see problems solved and people working together to help each other, especially on a global basis,” Knight said.
“I love to connect people and companies with each other on various levels in my personal and work life — the opportunities to do this now are more amazing than ever. Social and search are two areas I am extremely passionate about, and they could be most harmed.”
The language of the legislation, according to Ray Klump, the chairman of Lewis’ Math and Computer Science Departments, is far too big.
“The legislation requires Internet service providers to shut down sites that are accused of hosting pirated material,” Klump said. “Who decides that a site is guilty of that? Are adequate protections put in place to prevent someone from just capriciously crying foul against a site they’d like to take down?”
John Catalano, a senior double majoring in political science and philosophy of law, says that SOPA and PIPA go too far when it comes to dealing with piracy.
“Entire sites found in violation could be made virtually nonexistent if accused of being in violation of copyright infringement,” Catalano said. “For instance, if someone posted a clip of ‘The Walking Dead’ on Facebook, the entire site would be shut down without trial.”
As this legislation has been withdrawn, the question on how to address the issue of piracy remains. But, as Klump says, there was a reason why many objected the legislation initially.
“There needs to be more protection, more due process,” said Klump. “And that is why so many object to this legislation so passionately.”
Catalano adds that something needs to be done.
“Movie and music industries lose money when sites like MegaUpload [which has recently been indicted] place copyrighted materials on their site for people to view for free,” Catalano said. “Common ground needs to be found where both the Wikipedias and the Paramounts of the world can prosper, not just one particular group.”
In San Francisco, Knight hopes the protest sent an important message to Congress and to the U.S. with regard to this legislation.
“We are a community that works together to continue to raise the bar on content creation/generation and problem solving,” Knight said. “We care about our community and our peers around the globe. We want to use our knowledge as a whole to help propel the next generations into an era of success.”