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You’ll notice that today, January 18th 2012, all over the internet, websites like reddit.com and wikipedia are blacked out, and have been temporarily replaced with pages like this:

wikipedia's SOPA / PIPA blackout page

wikipedia's SOPA / PIPA blackout page

As far as I know, it’s the first coordinated internet-based strike of its kind.  It’s happening in opposition to two bills – SOPA and PIPA. Although I support the strike one hundred percent, and in fact love the solidarity, I find I’m conflicted about it. But first…

What Are SOPA & PIPA?

Long story short, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are bills backed by entertainment and media companies.  Not unreasonably, they want people to stop pirating the movies, TV shows and music they peddle. At first glance, the concept is not unreasonable. They produce a product, put it up for sale, and a bunch of people steal it. It’s bound to be frustrating.

The problem with SOPA and PIPA is twofold. 1) Their proposed limitations won’t even solve the problems of piracy. Far more worrisome is number 2) The limits proposed in both acts give the US government and corporations control over information that’s shared on any website. If you’ve missed all the hubbub, or you’d like a little more info, you can watch the video below for a refresher.

What’s the Strike About?

Many of the companies who oppose both acts are blacking out their sites for 12 or 24 hours today in order to demonstrate their opposition to both SOPA and PIPA, and to educate the uninformed public on what may come to pass if we don’t make as much of a fuss as possible. It’s a remarkable thing. More than 7,000 sites plan to be a part of the strike. Some companies who oppose the bills either can’t afford or aren’t willing to lose a whole day’s revenue by blacking out their sites. Still many, like WordPress, are giving their users the option to add a “Stop Censorship” ribbon or banner.  This is what Google’s homepage looks like right now.

google's anti SOPA / anti PIPA homepage on January 18, 2012

google's anti SOPA / anti PIPA homepage on January 18, 2012

So What’s the Problem, Sunshine?

I applaud the internet’s effort on this one, I really do. What I don’t love is that we’re only getting any damned traction because the corporations that oppose SOPA and PIPA are just as large as the corporations that support it. It’s like a Godzilla vs Godzilla death match and we’re the tiny, faceless, screaming, running people getting trampled betwixt.

This strike has the very nice feeling of something grass rootsy and by the people, but it’s Wikipedia vs Hulu. It’s Disney vs Facebook. It’s not us against the man, man. For some companies – like the non-profit Wikipedia – the strike is probably happening for the right reasons. Net neutrality, freedom of information, and all the issues you and I (hopefully) care about. For other companies, like Facebook and Twitter, a passing of these bills would threaten their business models. Not to mention the fortunes they’d need to spend on administrative housekeeping. They’re as (literally) invested in blocking the bills as entertainment companies are in supporting it. Everyone loves a good old fashioned strike, but it’s not so warm and fuzzy when you really think about it.

I mean, where was the internet when NDAA passed? Sure, that knee-in-the-balls to the Bill of Rights wasn’t internet-specific, but where were our knights in shining armor then? They weren’t beating their chests, decrying the offense to American civil liberties or the poor world role modeling we were exhibiting, were they? They were mum. Life went on, business as usual. And when Occupy finally manages to get the supreme court to change their minds about Citizens United vs. FEC, you can bet Google’s not gonna change its masthead for 24 seconds in support of the people.

So I’ve blacked out my Facebook picture, and I’ve blacked out my blog, and I’ll leave the anti-censorship ribbon up till the 24th of this month. Because it’s important. SOPA and PIPA scare me more than NDAA, frankly, and NDAA scares the shit out of me, so I’ll do it.   And I’m thankful that there are some big names and some big bucks behind squashing both bills. But really, as tempting as it is to swoon over the impressive efforts of some of the biggest internet companies out there, when it comes down to it, I’m not all that impressed.

Nevertheless. Block #SOPA.

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