Sunday, January 22, 2012

Who Defeated the SOPA and the PIPA?

After a battle between proponents and opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), they were withdrawn by the Senators of the United States Congress who earlier sponsored them.

The supposed objective of the two acts was stopping internet piracy, which is costing huge amounts of money to some companies, most notably in the field of entertainment. Therefore, stakeholders in film and music industry such as the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) and Universal Music became strong supporters of the acts.

However, the opponents argued that the provisions in the acts could be used to stop the exchange of free information. (Read more on this here).

It is not surprising that the U.S., hard hit by the Wikileaks revelations, is contemplating action against such websites. However, blocking websites such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter will undoubtedly help autocrats around the world. It was these kinds of websites which can be used to freely upload information that gave birth to and nurtured the pro-democratic protests throughout the world in year 2011. Without such websites, Ben Ali would have remained the president of Tunisia even now.

The websites which opposed the SOPA and PIPA launched a one day strike on January 18, 2012. It had a notable effect on the people around the world. More than 162 million people reportedly saw the blackout page on Wikipedia. Also 4.5 million signed a petition against the acts in Google.

The most dramatic confrontation between the two sides was the hacking of several federal government and private websites after the Department of Justice shutdown the website Magaupload. A group of ‘hacktivists’ called Anonymous, attacked several websites in retaliation. These included websites of Department of Justice, MPAA, Universal Music etc. It was total cyber warfare.

On the same day, it was announced that the SOPA and PIPA has been withdrawn. It was seen as if the retreat was due to the ‘hacktivists’.

Although the withdrawal followed the hacking of websites, it can be said that the hacking did not have a positive impact on the defeat of the acts. Some Senators had already withdrawn their support to SOPA and PIPA on account of the magnitude of public protest. The U.S. Capitol received about 8 million electronic messages on SOPA and PIPA on the day of the protest. The Senators couldn’t afford to alienate the public especially during an election year, by supporting such questionable legislation.

The Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, former Senator Chris Dodd, has blamed the websites which launched the strike action saying “some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns” (Read the statement here) It is impossible to reject this claim completely. However, he seems to have forgotten that some of the websites which oppose this measure has no financial stake whatsoever. On the other hand, the financial interests such as the MPAA themselves vocally support the ‘anti-piracy twins’ because of their financial stakes involved.

Chris Dodd, being a former Senator, must be aware of the implications of turning the back to the aspirations of the public. If he needs more evidence, he should take a good look at video footage of the protests which swept through dozens of cities an Arabia and elsewhere in 2011.

Although it has many defects, the democracy in the United States has imparted the opportunity of changing the course of their nation to the public by expressing their opinion. At times, even business tycoons have to accept the fact. In contrast, the people in Arabia had to take to the streets and sacrifice even their lives to change the course of their nations.

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