I'd like to take this moment to speak out against SOPA and PIPA, two legal actions that threaten the way of life as we know it on the internet. (For more information about them, check out CNET's excellent articles on the subjects here and here.)
Now I know what you're thinking. "What would this mean to me- it's only for people who pirate stuff, right?" WRONG. The fine print on SOPA and PIPA can extend to far more than pirated books, movies, games, and music. The amount of ways that these bills can be abused beyond their original intent are many and they can and will affect you, the average person.
Think about the review blog Book Chick City, one of the biggest review blogs on the internet. Or any review blog, for that matter. It's common practice to post a picture of the book cover and a favorite quote or two from the text. Not the whole book, just pieces and parts of it. Well, under SOPA and PIPA, that site is infringing on the publisher's copyright and that site can be removed. Even if it's clearly something that will help instead of hinder the publisher's sales, that site can be removed.
The same thing goes for youtube videos. Imagine that you're recording a video where you're gushing about the Tim Burton movie, Alice in Wonderland. You're wearing a shirt that has Johnny Depp on it and you happen to show a picture from the trailer. Well, that can be considered copyright infringement as well. It could also be considered copyright infringement to just be wearing the shirt even if you aren't discussing the movie or showing bits of the trailer.
That's not enough? Well, how about Wikipedia? They rely on fair use pictures to enhance their articles, usually posters and the occasional screen grab of a notable scene. Under these policies Wikipedia could have those images stripped from the site and potentially even the plot summaries. This is why Wikipedia along with Google, have blacked out their sites to protest these bills.
Here's where it gets really scary. Parts of the bill pretty much state that they can monitor everything that you do and even block sites that is believed to encourage piracy. Not the term "believed to encourage". They don't need proof, they just need to think that the site encourages piracy in any way. That means that even sites like Amazon, eBay, and Blogger could be put under fire because they think that it encourages piracy. (Amazon and eBay are both sites that try to remove pirated products when it's pointed out to them BTW.) That these bills effectively give the government and goodness knows who else the right to monitor your online movements is pretty scary. All of this smacks of communist China, a country well known for blocking out sites they believe are "bad" for their people or threaten the country in any way.
Like fanfiction? Under SOPA and PIPA your fanfiction site (and fanfiction.net itself) can be removed from the internet entirely since it's seen as "encouraging" piracy. It doesn't matter that you've purchased so much Harry Potter products that you've barely got enough room to move in your house or that you've bought every single Silent Hill game the day it's released. SOPA and PIPA will see your fanfiction site as a dirty and evil site that's going to encourage piracy.
Or how about just googling the internet? If SOPA and PIPA are approved then you'll find that the amount of sites that come up in a search are dramatically decreased. Sites such as youtube, eBay, or even random sites will not come up because the government is putting pressure on the search engines to not display those sites because they "encourage piracy". Yep, these bills will tell us what we can and can't see on our screens. While it might be nice to see fewer "download Harry Potter 6 from divx" hits, it'll also remove sites that legitimately sell the movie or book as well as any other Harry Potter site that the government deems is a site that encourages piracy.
This is an insanely bad move by the government. I won't deny that piracy is a problem, but this is not the answer. Everyone remember learning about Prohibition in school? For those who don't remember or haven't gotten to that point yet, Prohibition is a point in America's history where the government tried to "improve" the country by banning the sale of alcohol because they thought it encouraged evil and wicked behaviors. Rather than improving the country, Prohibition actually helped bring about an obscene amount of bloodshed and violence... and even then alcohol was still freely circulated. Crime rates soared. That's soared, not dropped, which is what we can expect from all of this. This didn't stop until 1933 when people finally saw that their good intentions were bringing more harm than good.
This is what we can expect from SOPA and PIPA, violence and crime. Piracy won't stop, it'll just find new ways to circulate. Effectively censoring the internet will only hurt everyone involved. I also think it'll hurt the wallets of the companies that are clamoring for it as well. I'm not condoning piracy, but many people discover new products through pirated products and many will end up purchasing things because they first saw the pirated version. I'm fully expecting for profits to fall rather than rise, with people never discovering that great new author, movie, or game.
We need to all try to find ways to solve the problem of piracy other than creating Big Brother. I for one think that if prices were potentially lowered, more people would buy things. I know that part of the reason I avoid the movies is because I don't feel like spending $8 on a matinee ticket for a movie I'm not even sure I'll like. (Maybe if the big Hollywood actors would stop demanding millions of dollars, the ticket prices could be lower.)
In any case, I highly recommend that you contact your local representatives about these proposed bills and let them know what you think. Give them ideas for what to do other than censoring and blocking the internet. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away.
For your local representatives, check out Wikipedia. They've blacked out the site and have a form where you can discover your local reps. (Click here.)
Also, I just thought I'd share a gif that The Oatmeal has posted on his site: