It is estimated that approximately ten and a half million songs are illegally downloaded every hour across the world. This is a shocking statistic, and proof that improved technology, such as faster broadband speeds, is making it increasingly easy for web users to illegally obtain media.
Those involved within the entertainment and software industries, such as film, music and software producers, have attempted to combat such online piracy by suing random individuals found guilty of illegally sharing copyrighted content.
However, with this approach having seemingly failed in its attempt to deter others from downloading illegally, the United States government sought to introduce two bills, PIPA and SOPA, in an attempt to step up their battle against online piracy.
PIPA (Protect IP Act), a re-written version of a previously failed bill named ‘Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA)’, would have given U.S. corporations and government the power to bring legal action against any website they deemed as committing copyright infringement of U.S. media, whether the culprit was based in the U.S. or not.
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) was a bill introduced to the U.S. government in late 2011, again built from a failed bill, the ‘Pro-IP Act’. SOPA would essentially have been a ‘black list’ of websites deemed guilty of breaking copyright laws. Using SOPA, the US government would have been able to prevent web-based companies – including search engines, advertisers, and DNS providers – from associating with any of the websites on this black list.
Both bills were initially supported by an array of technological giants, including Apple, Intel, Dell and Microsoft. Over time, however, as it became apparent just how much power the U.S. government and corporations would inherit if the bills were passed, companies began to alter their allegiance.
For instance, had PIPA been accepted, the U.S. government and its corporations would have had the power to judge and refuse any new websites that could be deemed as a possible avenue for online piracy, as well as any existing sites.
Say someone decided to upload their own cover version of an existing song to a video sharing website such as YouTube. As that person does not own the copyright to the song, using the powers of PIPA the record label and the U.S. government would be able to force the website to remove the content. If the website did not comply, it would be placed in the SOPA blacklist.
For large sites like YouTube, it would be virtually impossible to constantly check all user content.
To put it simply, if PIPA had been in place when the internet first launched and started to grow, common sites such as Facebook and YouTube simply would not exist. The internet would not be as we have come to know it.
As companies began to realise the drawbacks of both PIPA and SOPA, many began to publicly oppose the bills. Famously, Wikipedia held a ‘blackout’ of its website on Weds 18th Jan 2012, to demonstrate how PIPA and SOPA might have affected the web.
On the same day, an estimated thirteen million people took part in an online protest, along with a further fifty thousand websites taking part in the blackout protest and an estimated three million email messages sent to the U.S. congress.
This, combined with the actions of millions more protesters across the world over the last few weeks, eventually led to a decline in support for the two bills.
Lamar Smith, the lead SOPA representative, has since killed the bill. Additionally, the PIPA vote, which had been scheduled for Tuesday 24th Jan 2012, has been postponed as the U.S. government tries to find a compromise.
One such alternative has already been raised, a new bill entitled ‘Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade’ (OPEN). Whether this is a worthy substitute remains to be seen, but the U.S. government now have a huge task in convincing the world to support it.
Even without SOPA and PIPA, the US government has still been able to shut down the common content-sharing website Megaupload, and arrest its owner. However, as the supporters of PIPA and SOPA have learned, the power of the web and its combined users should not be underestimated.