NEW YORK, N.Y. – The Stop Internet Piracy Act and the Protect Internet Providers Act, known as SOPA and PIPA, caused waves of protests across the Internet and Westchester on Wednesday. Wikipedia and Reddit, some of the bills' loudest critics, went dark for the day, Google censored its own name, and Flickr blacked out photos. Protestors gathered at the New York City offices of senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, co-sponsors of the bill.
“There are two important issues in this debate: continued freedom of expression on the Internet and the ability to block online piracy. We believe that both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns,” said the senators in a co-authored statement.
The senators said they have had contact with Internet companies, such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo, Internet users, and NY Tech Meet-up, the group which scheduled protests in front of the senators’ New York offices on Wednesday.
The senators said they have made substantive changes to the due process and Domain Name System (DNS) blocking portions of the law, which many tech companies and bloggers say would create an Internet blacklist of companies. The senators did not say how the bill was changed. The senators also said that Internet piracy threatens “tens of thousands of New York jobs,” although they did not say how those jobs were specifically threatened.
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester, Rockland) came out squarely on the other side of the issue, saying in a release, “Thanks to all who have contacted me in opposition to SOPA – I share your concerns. Protecting copyright holders important, but SOPA could censor legal web activity, hinder economic growth and innovation.”
A spokesperson for Representative Nan Hayworth (R-Mount Kisco) addressed the topic cautiously in a statement Wednesday, saying that she believes intellectual property should be protected but "Congress must ensure legislation does not unnecessarily limit innovation and free speech on the Internet."
The legislation is supported largely by Hollywood content creators. Social media users have posted and reposted petitions setup on the Google homepage, and Facebook streams have been cluttered with links, videos, quotations and comments surrounding the legislation.
“When well-intentioned but uninformed people meet up with big money lobbyists bad legislation often ensues. SOPA/ PIPA is a perfect example of this. Our representatives don't know how the Internet actually works - either from a technical or from an economic view,” wrote Joshua Diamond, a Croton resident on The Daily Croton’s Facebook page.
Many Internet users are worried that legitimate cultural and historical content will be censored for carrying portions of copyrighted content. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is copyrighted by EMI. The “I Have a Dream” speech can be legally purchased on DVD for $20, or licensed for commercial use. Portions of the speech have been removed from YouTube, and many believe that legitimate educational website could be shut down or blacklisted because of similar content.
“This has everything to do with using the Internet the way we have been for the last 10 years. If you want to go to YouTube and look up a music video, and any sort of document pertaining to history even,” said Tony Gustin, an employee at a local computer repair and comic book shop. “Imagine all these things being removed, or worst case scenario is that the government shuts YouTube down altogether.”
The maligned piece of legislation has elicited cynicism in some, worried that lobbyists will triumph over the voices of the public. “In the end, if they’re still trying to railroad it through, it’s obvious they don’t care about what we’re saying,” said Gustin.