SOPA, So What?

By Rachel Leven, Staff Editor

It seems the Internet has finally come of age. And, in 2012, its puberty is looking a little awkward. Over the past month the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has brought the question of how and when the government should regulate the Internet to the fore. SOPA sought to reign in international piracy by forcing providers and websites in the U.S. to remove links to websites that have violated patents and copyrights. This would not just affect the single page on which the infringement appears, but the entire site itself. Can you imagine what that would do to Wikipedia? Or to Google’s ad word profits? We don’t really know how much money is lost through Internet piracy or what effect this bill would have, which may be why both of the afore-mentioned companies participated in a web protest last week. The movement made history as one of the first web protests to stop the U.S. Congress in its tracks. Both SOPA and PIPA (similar legislation under consideration in the Senate) are dead.

But they are not the only laws aimed at regulating the Internet that are floating around. The U.S. signed on to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in 2011, which attempts to create international standards for content ownership. The European Commission is considering regulation that would restrict the amount of user data that can be collected and stored by companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google. While this sounds great for consumers, websites are understandably opposed. None of these laws and regulations show a nuanced understanding of the way the Web operates. But their intent—to reign in the wild wild Web—is important and things are just heating up.

Last week the file-sharing site Megaupload was shut down by the FBI and seven of its top staff, including the founder Kim Dotcom, were charged with copyright infringement and conspiracy. In response, the infamous hacking group Anonymous launched attacks against the Justice Department and others. To make their service overload attacks effective, Anonymous recruited unwitting users through shortened links. These are not just some nerds battling over a bootleg version of The Smurfs. This is a fight over how to govern or not govern communication and global networks. And you are part of the war whether you know it or not.

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