I know I’ve been going on about PIPA (Protect IP Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) a lot on both my Facebook page and Twitter account for the past month.  But the threats of both of these bills are no where near over.  For anyone who doesn’t know what’s happening, basically these two bills are under review by the US government which are heavily backed by the music and film industries.  Both bills are against online piracy yet both bills are seriously flawed in that their proposals won’t actually stop online piracy but they WILL allow censorship of the internet on sites such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia…and every other site ever created.  People who post videos of themselves singing karaoke?  They would be breaking the law if either of these bills pass.  But not only the people who are in/posting the videos but YouTube also would be under threat and would be taken down for allowing the videos to be posted on there.

Ever written  a quote from a book or a movie online?  One line you really love and like to use a signature on forums, or just to say to cause amusement?  You would then be breaking the law if either of these bills pass.

Google, quite rightly, is joining in the online blackout protests today because as a search engine it lists EVERY site on the internet.  If it didn’t, it would be a pretty lousy search engine.  Under both SOPA and PIPA this would mean Google is breaking the law and would have to be taken down with the Google owners looking at 5 years in jail.

Oh yes, did I forget to mention that?  There is jail time involved in these bills as it would be a federal offense and the way they’re worded means that any one of you who have ever posted a link to a funny video, or a quote, or a link to a site would be facing up to 5 years in jail if that video, quote or site is deemed in breach of copyright, or even potentially breaching copyright.  Potentially – that’s an awfully big word to have in a bill, it opens up the playing field from just pirate sites to everything.

So, is anyone still thinking no big deal?  There was a case only last month involving Universal Music.  They decided that a site called Mega Upload was a piracy site (I will admit, I hadn’t heard of this site so I can’t speak to that accuracy), and was then blocked through a DNS takedown request (which is what would happen to anything considered “rogue” – no warning, no notice, just immediate takedown).  The most worrying part of this case is this though… A lot of well known artists including P-Diddy, Kanye West, Mary J Blige and Will.I.Am created a video praising the file sharing site Mega Upload, the video was shown on YouTube and YouTube was forced to remove it after receiving a takedown notice from Universal Music claiming that the video was “violating copyrights”.  Now, here’s the part where it gets interesting – there was NO copyright violations in the video at all!  Universal Music did not own any of the content in the video and yet they still successfully had it removed, ie: they censored the internet to stop anyone raising awareness about an issue they don’t want people to know about.  …and this is BEFORE either of these bills pass – if  they pass it won’t just be Universal who can to do this.  And this isn’t just an America  issue, it’s INTERNATIONAL.

America may be looking at passing these laws but it won’t just be America who suffers as a result because most of the sites we use every day are American sites.  These bills will crush new start up companies – if Facebook had tried to start up after either of these bills passed then it would have been shut down and people imprisoned long ago due to people posting pictures, videos and links that have potential to violate copyright.

These bills would devastate the internet, but be aware that while these bills are trying to be passed there are cases going on which feel very much like they’re trying to make examples in court to stack up in the bills favour.

This case was in England only a few days ago which has resulted in a UK student facing extradition to America to face piracy charges.  His crime?  He ran a site which functioned like Google, providing a list of links to torrent sites.  He hosted no torrents on his site, no illegal content and no content which infringed on copyright.  Under this ruling, Google would also be sentenced in the same manner as they too provide a list of links to torrent sites (as well as movie streaming sites, etc).  Without sounding paranoid, I do find it a bit too coincidental that this student is being extradited to the country which is trying to pass two bills which would allow him to be sent to prison without a fight.

So, take the time to think about this – what have you talked about on your blog, twitter or Facebook account or what have you linked to that could end up with not only you facing criminal charges (and extradition if you’re not from America, it seems) but with the forced takedown of twitter, Facebook or any other site you posted it on?  In this article alone I’ve mentioned a site which has been deemed “rogue” as well as linked to an article talking about the case which shows the now re-established video in it.  That, under the SOPA and PIPA bills, would be enough and means I would have to censor this post to remove any mention of those and anything else which has potential to lead to copyright infringement.

There are blackouts across the web today in protest of these bills.  Join the fight, take a stand and make your voice heard by signing the petitions against both PIPA and SOPA – tell congress that you don’t want to be censored, that you want free speech and freedom of choice on the internet, let the government know that you don’t want a nanny state who chooses for you what you can and can’t know.  Be informed and be heard.

Watch the video about what SOPA and PIPA mean for the future of the internet if they come to pass.  The video explains it much better than I did, and in much more detail, covering all of the problems with the bills (I only touched on very few of them).

Sign Google’s petition here (may be a different link for Google outside of the US)
Sign the “Fight for the future” stop American censorship page to send a message to your senator urging them to vote NO for both bills (only for US residents)
Sign “Vote for the net” here, to let your US officials know you won’t vote for anyone who backs these bills (only for US residents)

For anyone who isn’t in the US, take the time to find out more and see how you can help – as Wikipedia says today “Contact your local State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or similar branch of government. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and any similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will affect sites outside of the United States, and actions to sites inside the United States (like Wikipedia) will also affect non-American readers — like you. Calling your own government will also let them know you don’t want them to create their own bad anti-Internet legislation.”

This isn’t something that will just go away.  But if either of these bills pass, the sites you love could.