Blog Post

The End of SOPA?

The End of SOPA?

Being on the job market for the first time this year has required much more effort than I'd anticipated -- I've been a frankly terrible member of HASTAC as a result. But at last things are beginning to settle down and I can resume more active participation here. 

I wanted to return with a link-post on something happening in Congress this week that I haven't seen covered a tremendous amount at the site: the debate over SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Earlier in the month James Losey and Sascha Meinrath had a primer on the proposed bill at Slate that compared them to the "Intolerable Acts" of the British Crown in 1774:

More than 200 years later, the U.S. Congress is considering bills that would lead to collective reprisals against online communities. The Senate’s PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House are supposed to address copyright infringement and counterfeiting. In reality, they are so technically impractical that they do little to address these problems. They would, however, undermine participatory democracy and human rights, which is why these bills have garnered near-universal condemnation from both human rights groups and technologists.

The interconnected nature of the Internet fostered the growth of online communities such as Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. These sites host our humdrum daily interactions and serve as a public soapbox for our political voice. Both the PROTECT IP Act and SOPA would create a national firewall by censoring the domain names of websites accused of hosting infringing copyrighted materials. This legislation would enable law enforcement to take down the entire domain due to something posted on a single blog. Yes, an entire, largely innocent online community could be punished for the actions of a tiny minority.

If you think this scenario is unlikely, consider what happened to earlier this year. Back in February, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security seized 10 domains during a child-porn crackdown called “Operation Protect Our Children.” Along with this group of offenders, 84,000 more entirely innocent sites were tagged with the following accusatory splash page: “Advertisement, distribution, transportation, receipt, and possession of child pornography constitute federal crimes that carry penalties for first time offenders of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution." Their only crime was guilt by association: They were all using the domain.

SOPA would go even further, creating a system of private regulation to shut down websites that are accused of not doing enough to prevent infringement. Keep in mind that these shutdowns would happen before a site owner could defend himself in court—SOPA could punish sites without even establishing whether they are guilty of the charges brought against them.

Reaction across the Internet has been vociferous and immediate, much of it using sites like Cory Doctorow's website and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as information clearinghouses. Famously, 83 of the original engineers behind the Internet came out against the law, as did the heads of Yahoo, Netscape, Google, Blogger, Twitter, the Internet Archive, Wikipedia, the Huffington Post, PayPal, Mozilla, Flickr, YouTube, Craigslist, eBay, and other sites. David Rees, creator of the mid-2000s anti-Bush web comic Get Your War On, came out of retirement with First amendment scholars and online openness activists declared the bill illegal; other posts turned their attention to the corrupt process that got us here in the first place. Reddit provided an emergency list of IP addresses for in case the law passed; American Censorship promoted HTML code that allowed you to proactively censor your own site in protest; a Kickstarter project sold T-shirts.

Well, it worked: tonight the bill unexpectedly failed to advance from the Judiciary Committee.



A number of the most vocal websites (Reddit, Wikipedia, etc.) are planning a "web blackout" in protest of SOPA. There is even a website encouraging users to ask other organizations to join. I don't know how I feel about that, but I do know that this will be the defining moment for the bill. It's do or die time.


Very helpful and informative!


Wow! That's a great description of what's been going on; thanks for bringing that to the HASTAC community's attention. I've been following what's going on with a lot of interest, though I live across the border in Canada. Here's hoping the attitude that brought around SOPA doesn't migrate up here. Please do continue to post updates!


This is a most informative and succint timeline of events...I appreciate it! This is definitely something we should all be worried about.