The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (also known as the E-PARASITE Act, House Bill 3261, or H.R. 3261) was a bill that was being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives that was demanded by the wealthy corporations as well as the music and film industry. If passed, this bill would impose a number of controversial measures for dealing with online piracy including the distribution of copyrighted material via the internet. The Attorney General would be able to close down websites that infringe copyrights, and ban the site from online payment mechanisms such as PayPal and Visa. He could also prohibit the sites’ online advertising, and disable Google from ranking and linking to infringing sites.
The corresponding Senate bill, deceptively named by Democrat leadership as the PROTECT IP Act, was being pushed through the Democratic Senate by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Harry Reid (D-NV), whom liberals helped reelect in 2010.
Simultaneously, legislation such as The Cybersecurity Act and the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011” proposed allowing the federal government to tap into any digital aspect of every citizen’s information without a warrant. Banking, business and medical records would be wide open to inspection, as well as personal instant message and e mail communications.
SOPA was introduced by a Republican in the House, Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX).
Former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd—now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America—was a leading advocate of the bill and criticized the website blackout that occurred on Jan. 18 as a “gimmick”:
designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services.
Proponents of the bill claimed that it existed to protect the intellectual properties, and revenue of copyright holders, and was necessary to enforce copyright laws in the US. However, opponents stated that it violated the First Amendment, that it would have crippled and ultimately destroyed the Internet, and would threaten online free speech. Some critics likened this bill to China’s Great Firewall.
If one were to use copyrighted music on YouTube ten times, this person would receive a five-year prison sentence, causing unnecessary arrests of people even including children using the music for amateur videos, to “protect” big-name artists from copyright infringement.
Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, released an open letter on the web stating that SOPA would “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment”.
The AFL–CIO’s Paul Almeida, arguing in favor of SOPA, stated that free speech was not a relevant consideration, because “Freedom of speech is not the same as lawlessness on the Internet. There is no inconsistency between protecting an open Internet and safeguarding intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property is not the same as censorship; the First Amendment does not protect stealing goods off trucks.”
The primary supporters of the bill were Hollywood (including its trade association, MPAA, which was led by former Democrat U.S. Senator Chris Dodd) and the music industry (led by its trade group, the Recording Industry Association of America). Other supporters included television companies, Viacom, Nike, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Fraternal Order of Police, the National Association of Governors, the Better Business Bureau.
This legislation was one of the few bills that both conservatives and liberals vehemently oppose. Everyone from leftist occupiers to the Tea Party thought this bill was a bad idea, yet Obama never said he would veto it. Among the many critics of the bill were Conservapedia, The Heritage Foundation, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Mozilla, MoveOn.org, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (constituents throughout the Bay area), Rep. Ron Paul, who was at the time a candidate in the 2012 GOP presidential primaries, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and Rep. Darrell Issa.
The Obama Administration released a statement which read, in part, “we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet. Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.”. The administration has also released a statement implying that it will veto the legislation should it reach the president’s desk.
On January 18, 2012, some websites launched a protest of SOPA and PIPA. English Wikipedia shut down for 24 hours, and Google ran a black banner. English Wikipedia shut down after a quick discussion generated comments from 1,800 users. 763 of those users supported the shutdown, while the rest favored other actions or no actions. Many of those voting for a shut down were newly created accounts, so the vote did not reflect the wishes of the 100,000 Wikipedia editors. Other Wikipedia projects, such as Simple English Wikipedia, voted to not protest. During and after the protest, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) urged users to contact their Congressional representatives. WMF claimed that SOPA “threatened the existence of Wikipedia” while internal critics there disputed that claim. ConservativeNewsAndViews.com shut down and redirected to a site criticizing SOPA and PIPA.
The day after the online protest, the United States Department of Justice shut down Megaupload, a website allegedly associated with software piracy. Media attention quickly shifted from the protest to the Megaupload crack-down.
The secret behind SOPA, the so-called anti-piracy bill, had nothing to do with piracy or copyright theft. That was a trojan horse as it was really about the formal effort to mimic Communist China’s system of Internet censorship. But don’t take our word for it, listen to what Joe Lieberman, co-sponsor of PIPA, SOPA’s sister version in the Senate, said about the purpose of behind the US government’s efforts to control the Internet under the guise of cybersecurity.
The push to restrict and control the internet was being pursued by an elite few, petrified at the fact that alternative and independent sources of information were then eclipsing corporate and government controlled outlets in terms of audience share, trust, and influence.
Lieberman characterized fears that the US government would use such powers to censor political content as “total misinformation,” yet goes on to admit that the purpose behind the agenda is to mimic China’s ability to “disconnect parts of its Internet in case of war,” adding, “we need that here too”.
Of course, Communist China’s “war” is not against foreign terrorists or hackers, it’s targeted against people who dare to use the Internet to express dissent against government atrocities or corruption. China’s system of Internet policing is about crushing freedom of speech and has nothing to do with legitimate security concerns as Lieberman well knows.
Having largely failed in his bid to use fears over cyberwarfare, bearing in mind it was the United States and Israel who launched the Stuxnet attack, to achieve the ultimate goal of Internet control, Lieberman returned with the same agenda only under a different guise – the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA)– of which he was the co-sponsor.
Whether the justification is cybersecurity or anti-piracy, the end game remains the ability to seize control over the Internet and shut down websites on a whim.
Indeed, the bill was merely the act of legally codifying what was already taking place. Lieberman himself was instrumental in having the whistleblower website Wikileaks shut down when Amazon axed Wikileaks from its servers after being pressured to do so by Lieberman’s Senate Homeland Security Committee.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security had already seized dozens of websites merely for linking to copyrighted material, despite the fact that such material wasn’t even hosted on the website itself, a process the Electronic Frontier Foundation criticized as, “Blunt instruments that cause unacceptable collateral damage to free speech rights.”
While the likes of Wikipedia and Google commendably protested against SOPA and PIPA, the big ISPs and domain name companies were firmly behind it. Indeed, the global authority over all .com domain names, VeriSign, demanded the power to terminate websites deemed “abusive” when ordered to by government without a court order or any kind of oversight whatsoever.
The ultimate end game of SOPA was not merely about handing the federal government the power to shut down websites. Once such powers are granted, the only way to police such a system would be to require all website owners, and eventually anyone who posts any form of content on the Internet, to require permission from the state to do so. This would take the form of an individual Internet ID for every user – again part of Lieberman’s favored Chinese-style system – which could then be granted or revoked at the discretion of the authorities.
The so-called “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace,” created by NIST under the auspices of the U.S. Commerce Department, purports to offer an “identity ecosystem” under which Americans would be able to protect their information not with passwords but with a “single credential” stored on a smart card, a cell phone, a keychain fob or some other kind of gadget. This would then be used to access a myriad of data, including tax returns, health information, bank accounts and more, amounting to a passport for your entire life.
Under such a system, the state would be able to create a far friendlier environment for controlling the flow of information, Bill Clinton’s proposed ‘Internet Ministry of Truth’ would flourish, and Hillary Clinton’s concerns about “losing the infowar” would be addressed.
This is the true secret behind SOPA, another attempted step towards abolishing anonymity and creating an infrastructure under which, just as in the physical domain, every act of commerce, communication or exercise of freedoms would first have to have been approved by an authority figure before it was allowed to take place.
On January 18, 2012, the English Wikipedia, Google, and an estimated 7,000 other smaller websites coordinated a service blackout, in protest against the bill. A banner the next day said more than 162 million people viewed its banner. Other protests against SOPA and PIPA included petition drives, with Google stating it collected over seven million signatures, boycotts of companies and organizations that supported the legislation, and an opposition rally held in New York City. In response to the protest actions, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) stated, “It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users and arm them with misinformation”, and “it’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform.” Access to websites of several pro-SOPA organizations and companies such as RIAA, CBS.com, and others was impeded or blocked with denial-of-service attacks which started on January 19, 2012. Self-proclaimed members of the “hacktivist” group Anonymous claimed responsibility and stated the attacks were a protest of both SOPA and the United States Department of Justice’s shutdown of Megaupload on that same day. (Wikipedia)
On January 20, 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith postponed plans to draft the bill: “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation … The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.” The bill was effectively dead at that point.
Boy genius Aaron Swartz had been instrumental in designing software that aimed to make the internet easy and open for everyone, and also co-founded both Reddit.com and Demand Progress — one of the most visited sites on the web and a highly touted activism organization, respectively.
Swartz became a political target, and that is what led to his tragic death, believes Kim Dotcom, the founder of the now-defunct file-storage site Megaupload, in a feature interview with RT.
“Aaron Swarts, I mean, he stopped SOPA. With his efforts, he stopped SOPA and he became a target. A political target.”
Swartz was found dead, hung to death in his NYC apartment less than a year after SOPA was defeated, following 13 trumped-up federal accounts levied against him and constant harassment from the US attorneys. Below, he humbly explains how We The People, not himself, defeated the draconian SOPA bill: