Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Fight Over #SOPA -- Both Sides of It -- Carries On Online

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, November 16 2011

Of course the advocacy efforts over the Stop Online Piracy Act would use the Internet as a main stage.

I've been watching this petition in opposition to SOPA and noticed that it's gained something like 3,000 signatures in a matter of minutes. Right now it's at almost 187,000 signatures. Tumblr, Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge and others have all either slapped a "Censored" sticker across their logos on their websites, added a "Website Blocked" splash page across their homepage or put up a post urging visitors to sign a petition in opposition to the bill. Tumblr, for instance, has a contact-your-congressman tool built in to their anti-SOPA page.

But theirs are not the only petitions circulating at present; this vaguely pro-SOPA petition has nearly 40,000 signatures and this one has 8,475. Creative America, a group backed by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, CBS Corporation, the Directors Guild of America, IATSE International, NBC Universal, the Screen Actors Guild, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Viacom, the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros., sponsored both of those.

What are they fighting over? The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on it right now. The bill would make a court order the only thing between many websites based overseas accused of copyright infringement, or some other purported abuse of intellectual property rights, and a large-scale shunning that essentially disconnects that site from many structures of the Internet: people looking for a site at its usual domain name would no longer be able to find it, it wouldn't show up in search engines, payment processors like Visa or Paypal would be obliged to stop handling transactions on the site owners' behalf for that site and advertising services would have to stop doing business with them. Among other reasons this causes concern, some intellectual property owners and law enforcement officials send content removal requests under existing rules with such high volume that they have demonstrated questionable legal grounds for removal and even an incomplete grasp of whether they were demanding the removal of content they actually owned. On the other hand, this white paper from the AFL-CIO, a SOPA supporter, cites Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development figures from 2005 that pegged the various piracy and bootlegging activities as part of a $200-billion industry. To content producers, that's money they should be receiving for their work.

What this bill proposes to do is legislate a stimuli to which the entire Internet would have to respond. To opponents, this smacks of the Great Firewall of China, and would turn Twitter into something akin to Weibo, a similar Chinese service — a subtext there being that not only can the Chinese activist Ai Weiwei not use Weibo, his name is a banned search term there. The conversation around SOPA reveals just how closely linked the ideas of free speech on the Internet and freedom of speech generally have become in the United States.

"On the margin, therefore, DNS filtering will no doubt reduce piracy," Jerry Brito wrote earlier this month for Time's Techland blog — DNS filtering is the bit where a domain name would no longer work. "But what we have to ask ourselves is, at what cost? And that cost is legitimizing government blacklists of forbidden information."

One other thing: It looks like real people are having real disagreements over the bill online. One place they're hashing it out is on a petition page.

"Websites trafficking in stolen film and TV content get nearly 150 million visits every day, more than 50 billion visits per year," a user going by the name Whitney Boe, the only signer to leave a comment on the pro-SOPA petition on I could find who had taken more than two or three actions on the platform — and is thus likely to be a real person — wrote. "As an independent film producer I have seen my films that I put my own money into, uploaded to the internet for free viewing. Why people don't understand this is theft is beyond me. Do you steal from the grocery store? Do you walk into a Starbucks and just take what you want without paying?"

But other people used the same petition to express disagreement.

"Tricked into signing this," a user who goes by the name Matt Zillhardt wrote. Calling Boe out by name in a later comment, he added, "Censoring the internet to protect a few corporate fat cat executives is not going to help the movie, music, and TV industries."

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.


tuesday > Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and And strangely enough, seems to want its early users to ask for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.


monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.


The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.


Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.


wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.


The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.