Knowledge Center

The Day We Broke the Internet

I’ve never believed the government’s efforts to restrict unwanted and illegal online activity would be the end all, be all for privacy in the United States. After all, the U.S. would not be a country that would limit a creation that sprang from its very womb, right? 1984 wasn’t here to stay so soon, was it? Although I still don’t think it conceivable, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act may set a dangerous precedent that would break the internet.

Appetite for Disaster

Large, private entertainment corporations have been fighting piracy since the digital age came into existence. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there began to be a large flock of music to the internet, and soon after services like Napster began to spring up. This had the  entertainment industry up in arms. Suddenly the mega-billions were only turning into single billions. The file-sharing services eventually added movies to their agenda as well. So, in 2001 Hollywood decided it had enough. Movies then were not shared on the scale of that music was, so it was mainly an afterthought. Large corporate legislation effectively ended websites like Napster and Grokster as we used to know them. The Recording Industry Association of America’s legislation against the sites also had unintended effects. The large and public lawsuits just bought unwanted attention;  the younger population just flocked to other sites and the movie industry began to take a huge hit as well. Although Napster has been effectively forced to sell its company and join with more lawful and friendly music sharing organizations, there are many other sites across the internet that have carried the banner for social file-sharing. Though they remain nameless here, any Google search will yield results. Finally, SOPA and PIPA were introduced as legislation that would end the fight against illegal file-sharing for good. The aim of the legislation for the entertainment industry is to remove certain unauthorized material from cyberspace, to prevent the sharing of copy written material . However, many file-sharing organizations are from outside the United States. To circumvent that inconvenience PIPA would give the government the authority to bar access to certain domain names and even request to have links removed from the internet, even if the site is for private use. Companies can also sue any site and the government can take money away from any company website they believe is violating the SOPA and PIPA acts.

The Act against Acts

Eventually many people caught on and read between the lines on a simple document, realizing those what seems like a black and white war could stain profit, business and innovation in red. Companies across American began making their argument against the new bills in Congress. 

So one day in mid-January, the internet went black in protest. 

Certain websites, many social media types like YouTube and even Facebook, could take a large nosedive in profit. The government could effectively introduce lawsuits against them that would bankrupt those companies. Business startups would take a plunge as well. Many business startups rely on forums for ideas and innovation. One unintended link on a forum or new startup could be seen as unlawful and draw the ire of the entertainment industry or the government. One judicial branch could decide that a lot of websites that spread innovation or pump money into the economy should be expunged from cyberspace. Though it may seem inconceivable, Google, Wikipedia, Tumblr, and Twitter could be a thing of the past, subject to the same hand that would hold an umbrella over small businesses. For once, Congress finally listened. Procedural voting on SOPA and PIPA has been postponed indefinitely. Though there is clearly more work to be done, It’s great that businesses and those who favor innovation now have the ear of legislatures.  So, 1984 isn’t here  yet, but the mobilization of many across America averted a bill that could stifle innovation and introduce a level of censorship never before seen in a free society. For the time being, the internet remains the largest market in the world and is the best type- a free one, where innovation and creation can run rampant.


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