On the Record edited by Annie Harrison

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Fighting Back Against SOPA and PIPA


Today's news that lawmakers will postpone action on the SOPA and PIPA anti-piracy legislation demonstrated that Internet protests can make Congress sit up and listen. The nonprofit I work for, Benetech, took part in this week's actions blocking out portions of our website to protest the Internet blacklist bills. More than 75,000 websites, including Wikipedia, Google, and Reddit, took part in the protest. As EFF reported, the protest succeeded in briefly bringing down web traffic to Senate websites including that of my deeply misguided Senator, Dianne Feinstein, who is a sponsor of PIPA. An impressive 162 million people visited Wikipedia during the blackout and 8 million visitors looked up their representative's phone number.

Despite the postponement, SOPA and PIPA are far from dead. Wikipedia points out that while SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith has postponed his committee's hearing of the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has postponed the planned January 24 vote on PIPA, each made clear that legislators will move forward to refine both bills. Wikipedia expects changes in the legislation that will appear to tone down the worst impact of the measures without modifying their essential flaws.

I agree that both SOPA and PIPA will be reintroduced in slightly friendlier packaging. While we brace for the next round of Internet censorship legislation, it's useful to reflect on the impact that overbroad copyright enforcement measures could have had on one small nonprofit. The proposed bills would have placed Benetech's Bookshare library in legal jeopardy by allowing Visa and Mastercard to stop processing donations or subscription payments based on bogus accusations of copyright infringement. Bookshare operates under an exception in U.S. copyright law that makes accessible ebooks available to readers with print disabilities without requesting permission or paying royalties. While Bookshare opposes piracy of copyrighted works, the library is often contacted by authors and publishers who don't understand copyright law and demand that their books be removed.

SOPA and PIPA could also endanger Benetech's human rights projects including our Martus software which allows human rights activists to encrypt sensitive testimony to protect the identity of witnesses. If IP rights holders allege that Martus is being used to encrypt copyrighted works, human rights defenders could lose access to critical tools used around the world to combat violence, government surveillance and censorship. The same argument to be used to suppress TOR.

If you care about free speech, contact your representatives in both houses of Congress and tell them you oppose SOPA, PIPA and efforts by the entertainment industry to hijack the Internet.

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