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SOPA – What’s the big deal?!

by Emma Dunn

So I comes into work this morning, and I find a strange thing has happened to the internet. Some of my favourite sites, like Reddit and Wikipedia, have gone down. But this isn’t a technical glitch – this is a form of protest that we have never seen before online. It turns out that the people behind these sites are protesting about American bills SOPA and PIPA.

Now these bits of legislation had been drifting at the edges of my radar for a while, but because it was an American issue, I never really paid them much attention. But Wikipedia and Reddit have decided to shut down their entire English-speaking operation. So now I can’t do my ill-informed homework or waste my afternoon away reading rage comics?! Now I’m really mad!

For those who don’t know, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (or SOPA for short) is a US bill designed to stop online copyright infringement.

‘So what’s wrong with that?!’ I hear you cry – well, nothing. The problem is that the bill has a lot of ‘rough edges’ that will cause a lot of collateral damage to innocent websites.

Take sites which are based on user contributions, for example. I’m talking anywhere that users can post content, images, videos or whatever (think Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, WordPress, or another gazillion sites all over the internet). Now, all it would take is for one user to post a copyrighted image on the site, and US officials would be granted the power to direct internet traffic away: in effect, censoring the site.

The bill would put a huge amount of pressure on sites to ‘police’ user generated content, and if they don’t do this properly, the punishment would be severe. As a result, people will be more apprehensive about creating new sites and startups will become more and more uncommon.

And don’t even talk to me about the scary Orwellian-type free speech censorship it could facilitate.

Even though I am not a US citizen, I still feel like the issue affects me because US traffic, although I hate to admit it, dominates a sizable part of the online community. So anything that affects them will probably have a knock-on effect on us.

So the internet has spoken. SOPA = Bad. Read up, educate yourself and if you can, take action. Here are some decent places to start:

http://www.reddit.com/r/sopa

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act

http://americancensorship.org/infographic.html

And notable mention has to go to:

http://theoatmeal.com/sopa

Do you think that SOPA will affect you? Let us know what you think in the comments section below!

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