Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont democrat, introduced the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) to the Senate on May 12, 2011. COICA did not last long on the Senate floor, but PIPA passed on May 26 by Senate Judiciary Committee.
Here is when the power of the people began. The so-called “gamer community” saw that the beginning provisions, which would later build the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), would threaten an integral part of this community. YouTube videos of gamers playing through games on channels such as HankGames and TobyGames would be considered copyright infringement, and those videos would be taken down legally, as would those who run said sites.
Things remained fairly quiet on the matter, though, until Oct. 26, when SOPA was officially introduced to the House with 31 co-sponsors, a large support base. Right around this time, on Oct. 19, a group known online as the “Beliebers”, or Justin Beiber fans, realized that their beloved star would face years in prison for the very videos of song covers that launched the young star into fame.
At this point, SOPA’s essential message was to stop the online piracy of millions of songs, videos and other content that was being shared via sites like The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload. These sites, as well as independent internet users such as HankGames and Justin Beiber, all took content and made parts or all of it available to anyone with a computer. SOPA supporters believe that this was infringing upon the copyrights of those who originally owned the information.
On Nov. 16, the first American Censorship Day was held to spread the word about SOPA. On this day, Tumblr and thousands of other sites blacked out for the day, listing contact information for Congressional members and links to petitions against SOPA. Over one million contacts were made to Congress, including 80,000 calls. Over 2 million people signed petitions. The next day, Nancy Pelosi tweeted her own opposition to the bill.
Dec. 15 brought a House Judiciary hearing on the bill, where dozens of amendments were introduced and voted down. By the next day, the markup was far from done. Again, the Internet took matters into its own hands. Social media and news site Reddit had a user post that domain-hosting site GoDaddy was in strong support of SOPA. The user suggested that domains under GoDaddy transfer in protest. In a matter of days, over 80,000 domain names were transferred. The largest move was by Wikipedia, who moved its domains one day after the Reddit post.
By Jan. 5, 2012, people had begun physically attending town hall meetings and organizing a protest. A SOPA strike was announced for Jan. 18, when six Republican senators asked the head of PIPA, democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, to cancel the vote scheduled for Jan. 24.
The SOPA protest left a huge mark. Physical protests occurred all over Capitol Hill, but the largest audience was again the internet. An estimated 1 billion people viewed anti-SOPA messages online when sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit blacked out entirely, and even Google placed a censor bar over their logo, with links to contact representatives below the search bar.
A total of nearly 200,000 sites blacked out for the day. Ten million people signed petitions, three million sent emails, and over 100,000 called their representatives. In one day, 13 senators backed away from the bill, and five co-sponsors dropped their support.
Hosting site MegaUpload was shut down on Jan. 19 by the federal government via an indictment that accused the site of hosting pirated media. The site was accused of “racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.” In response, “hacktivist” group Anonymous took down several government sites, including the Department of Justice site, and copyright sites such as the Universal Music Group and the Motion Picture Association of America using a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS, attack. This type of attack simply targets a staggering amount of traffic towards a site, causing the servers to overload and shut down the site.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon plans to filibuster PIPA, which holds similar ideas to SOPA, as of Jan. 23. However, new bills have been introduced. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) established a framework that countries can choose to join to protect copyright items on a person-by-person level. Opponents feel that it will infringe upon civil rights of citizens by going into their iPods and hard drives in a militaristic way. It is also global, unlike SOPA, and goes further than just blocking websites. It looks at individual Internet Provider addresses, and at information shared via private channels.
The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act (PCIPA) demands that Internet Service Providers keep records for 18 months of what is accessed on their servers with the intent of protecting children. This bill is the least opposed so far, though the use of ACTA would make PCIPA into a spy, looking into the Windows or Macs of the average citizen for copyright infringement.
As the bills continue to circle, one message emerges triumphant. Democracy is power by and for the people, and only the people can let their government know what they want. Power of the people led 25 senators to publicly oppose PIPA after the blackout, and another 13 were leaning towards opposition.