SOPA/PIPA – what’s up with that?

Please note updates, below.

If you’re like me, there’s a lot of information that flies by you on a daily basis, information that half-registers, or semi-registers, and which you know you should know more about, but about which you know little.

And if you’re further like me, sometimes you have time to actually learn more about these snippets of information, and most of the time — you don’t.

Such it has been for me with regard to two bills pending in the US House of Representatives and Senate, known (respectively) by the acronyms SOPA and PIPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. For instance: I didn’t know that SOPA and PIPA were two versions of the same thing until about 30 seconds before I started typing this post.

On the other hand, though, sources that I trust (Boing Boing and Skepchick, for instance, as well as a metric ton of other folks on the left-hand side of the Internet dial) have been fighting the good fight against these bills for sometime, and the White House itself announced its opposition the other day (saying that “the important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative internet”), so I have had a vague but well-sourced sense that I, too, should be opposed to SOPA and PIPA.

For one, I’ll never be a fan of censorship. For another, I don’t like broad, sledge-hammer approaches to problems that are as complex and affect as many people as does online distribution of content (not to mention anything that pretends to deal in one fell swoop with anything as amorphous as “content”). For a third – well, there really wasn’t a “third,” because I didn’t know what I was talking about.

So I have finally done a smidge-bit o’ learnin’, on the very eve of an internet blackout planned as a protest by numerous big content providers (such as Wikipedia. Which I don’t trust unless I already kinda-sorta know what I’m looking for and am just looking for confirmation or possible sources to explore further, but, heck, one doesn’t go to bat only for those websites one likes, I suppose), as well as many smaller ones (all the way from Boing Boing to individual cat enthusiasts with a tumblr account). Many other sites, such as Google, will be doing what Cory Doctorow at my beloved Boing Boing has termed “going semithermonuclear“:

Big news: although Google won’t be blacking out tomorrow in protest of SOPA and PIPA, they will have a homepage graphic and link protesting the laws: “Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet.” (Update: Click here for Google’s excellent summation of the legislation.)

I suppose I’m also going to go semithermonuclear, in that I’ll be putting a banner up on the site (if I can figure out how), except that given my size,  it’ll be more like that little spark you see if you scuff your stocking-ed feet in the carpet in the dark come wintertime and then touch the light-switch. But, you know: Static zaps for the cause!

It should be noted that it looks like both bills may already be all but dead in the water – but as someone warned yesterday (I can no longer recall who… like I said: A lot of information flies by on a daily basis), that doesn’t mean the ideas are dead. It’s very likely that the powerful interests that support the bills in the business world (such as the Motion Picture Association of America and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp) and their supporters inside the halls of Congress will slice and dice the legislation and try to pass it in bits (after all, that’s what President Obama did when Congress wouldn’t pass the big jobs bill — it makes good legislative sense, if you really want something to pass). So, to the extent that you have bandwidth to keep these ideas on your radar, it might be a good idea to continue to do so.

Right! First up, this infographic, which sorted my brain and the various bits of disparate knowledge I had in it about these pieces of legislation in about 30 seconds flat (below it, you’ll find a few links to more information):

h/t Skepchick

Second up:

  1. Here’s a good Scientific American piece about the ongoing controversy: SOPA Opera – White House Shuts Down Proposed Online Anti-Piracy Bill.
  2. Here’s JM Ashby (of the accurately named Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog! Go!) writing about why SOPA (in its current incarnation, I suppose) is probably dead for good: SOPA Is Dead. Again.
  3. Here’s the organization leading the online protests: American Censorship (you’ll find various ideas about how to participate in the protest tomorrow, such as how to go black, and how to protest without going black).
  4. If you have a WordPress blog and want to participate in the blackout, they’ve provided a plug-in (+ note updates, below).
  5. And here’s another source for website banners.
  6. One more quick update: The best action you can take to oppose any pending legislation, of course, is to contact your US Representative & Senators – Wikipedia has set up a page where all you have to do is plug in your zip-code and you’ll get all the information you need – click here. I may have to show Wikipedia more respect in the future.

Bottom line, censorship is bad and while there is a very small handful of cases in which it might be genuinely necessary, these cases are few and far between. As someone who is trying to make her way in this crazy, topsy-turvy world of “no one pays you for almost anything you produce anymore,” I have a real and very personal concern over the ease with which intellectual property gets bandied about these days without so much as a by-your-leave. But sweeping, badly-crafted, over-reaching legislation that would have a chilling effect on the exchange of information and creative development is just not the way to go. I’m hoping that tomorrow’s protests will be the nail in the SOPA/PIPA coffin.


UPDATE: I wasn’t able to actually make any direct use of the methods that I link to above…! If you have a free WordPress blog and want to add a banner to it today, here’s what I did: 

Because the free blogs don’t have access to its HTML, I wound up (after surfing around and finding half-way answers that I was able to fiddle with + acquiring a sizeable amount of help from the husband, a software engineer) copy-and-pasting the code from the American Censorship page into an untitled Text widget (found under “Appearance” in your WordPress lefthand dashboard menu). I then fiddled with the size (if you look at the code, you’ll see the words “width,” “height,” “top” and “left” — adjust the numbers after them) and I hit “save” in the text widget each time, then refreshed the front page to see how it looked, and went back to fiddling until I got a size and placement I was happy with. (Basically, if I can do it, you can!) Now if people click on the banner, it will take them to the American Censorship page (the link is built into the code they provide for the banner).

UPDATE II: It turns out that if you go to the Settings in your WordPress blog, there’s now a “Protest SOPA/PIPA option”! **headdesk** Oh well. I like my banner. It looks like censorship. But you can do the easy-peasy two-click thing if you want! (h/t to @rosefox for pointing me toward the Settings…!)


  1. Personally, I feel like the larger issue is that we’ve collectively forgotten the point of copyright. The goal wasn’t to make sure that creators could get every single cent out of their creations. Instead, much like patents, it was a compromise to encourage creators to create, while still letting ideas enter the public domain after a reasonable period of time. But because the holders of copyright are usually the ones with money, they’ve used it to influence the rules, expanding the protections of copyright over and over and over. Copyright is not a fundamental right in the same way that civil liberties are meant to be.

    • LizR

       /  January 18, 2012

      Music copyright is also a travesty that’s destroying a lot of American heritage, rather than creating an incentive for creators to create. Copyright on music lasts longer than copyright on print, despite the fact that good paper can be reasonably expected to last for 200 years and good sound recording formats can only be reasonably expected to last for about 30 (and there’s a lot of audio that’s not on what one would call a good sound format). There are preservation exceptions to this law, but it’s hard to get funding for preservation work if you can’t guarantee that you’ll provide the public access to the recording in its new form, which for audio stuff mostly means putting it in an online database these days. Also with audio that’s about to die you can sometimes only play it once, which means that the first playback needs to be the one that transfers it to its new format, which is tricky if information about the copyright holder is say, in the recording, instead of written on the outside of it. It also makes archivists hesitate to let scholars listen to old stuff that looks like it might be in bad shape.

      DMCA left the states open to punish people who put sound recordings that they thought were orphan works really harshly if a copyright holder is identified, with the idea that the stronger the protections were, the more likely it would be that record companies would want to buy up the copyrights on old music and that it would preserved through commercial interest. But that mostly hasn’t happened, the in vagaries in state law are prohibiting libraries and archives from launching a non-profit venture without some reasonable protection against being sued if copyright holders to the old audio emerge. As an example of the silly state laws, California requires you to post notices weekly in a local newspaper if you want to do something other than preservation with an orphan audio work, to give the copyright holder a chance to come forward. If you wanted to make a national online consortium you’d have to be in compliance with audio copyright law in all fifty states, and would still probably be facing a high risk of being sued.

      In the meantime, audio recordings that no one wants to pirate but which scholars would love to able to listen to are literally rotting on the shelves.

  2. Thanks Em. I did the wordpress thing.

    At least, I think I did. It’s late. I’m tired.

    (And old, can I throw that in there, too? [And would it help to note that I initially wrote “their” for “there”?] And short? Yeah, that totally would explain why I couldn’t manage a simple download. . . .)

  3. Thanks, Emily! Great, informative, action-oriented post. Much appreciated!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Emily. Found you via Coco Rivers. Great stuff. You actually made it a bit easier to understand…I think. 🙂 I’m like you with all this information. Thank you!

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