18th of January was probably the day when most students worldwide didn’t do their homework. Wikipedia was down. Few knew that the site, alongside estimated 7.000 other as big as Wiki, but also smaller websites coordinated a service blackout or posted links and images in protest against SOPA and PIPA in an effort to raise awareness about how internet as we know it might change for the worse.
It was late October 2011 when Taylor Holmes found out about SOPA and PIPA. “Ever since then, I was spreading news of it through Facebook and Google+. I participated in IRC chats with Anonymous a few times and learned of more articles and videos there. I was in Romania for a few weeks in December and spent a lot of time online to give myself something to do and every day I became more and more outraged at these bills and the Congress”. But the Blackout on October 18th wasn’t the first measure websites took to protest against the bills. It was the outcome of all prevention they have done up to that moment, namely designed petitions one could email to the Congress members very quickly and easily. So did Taylor: “This was perhaps the most important part of the movement. I found several of these sites and participated in emailing my Congress members from various petitions. Eventually, Google and Wikipedia announced that they would be participating in the protest, borrowing the blackout idea from Anonymous who was planning much worse things via #OpBlackout on January 3rd. This operation did happen earlier, but was not very effective. But on Janury 18th, thousands of websites joined the cause, blacking-out their front webpages. Google “blacked out” its logo and Wikipedia blacked out its English articles. Both websites had links to pages that were designed to flood Congress with your emails. Within a few days, most of Congress had pulled their support for the bills”.
Wikipedia on Blackout
Google on Blackout
PIPA, the Protect IP Act (on its very long name, Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) was the first out of the three proposed laws to appear. It was initiated on the 12th of May 2011 by senator Patrick Leahy with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods, especially those registered outside US. Even if, at first hand, there seems to be no problem about governments wanting to prevent theft of intellectual property, many of the words used to construct the laws aren’t properly explained thus giving a wide range of interpretation that might do more wrong than right. Censorship is right around the corner. And so is prison time! It’s also good to know that PIPA isn’t the first act of its kind, but a re-write of the 2010 COICA (Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) which failed to pass.
Among petitions sent, Taylor Holmes also wrote to Bill Cassidy, member of Congress and representative of the 6th district of his state, Louisiana. The congressmen emailed back within a few days:
Dear Mr. Holmes:
Thank you for expressing your concerns on legislation regarding online piracy and internet censorship.
There has been recent controversy with HR 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill in its current form is not acceptable because it would limit freedom and could potentially harm innovation within the online community.
There is however a need to protect intellectual property on the internet, as piracy costs our economy up to $100 billion a year. Congress must strive to create legislation that defends against copyright infringement while, at the same time, protects our freedom and allows the internet to continue to function as the innovator and creative engine that we have come to expect and depend on.
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important issue. Please visit my website at http://www.cassidy.house.gov to sign up for my e-newsletter or to share your views on another issue.
Member of Congress
I couldn’t help but think of the communication relationship citizens of Romania have with their representatives and asked Taylor if writing to congressmen and senators is a common practice in America. “It’s a practice as old as America itself. In the 20th century, phone calls to congressmen became just as common, then faxes after that. Today the preferred medium is email. This kind of vocalization has been the best way for congress members to know how their constituents feel about particular issues”. Then it came to my mind the impolite answers protesters in Romania got from their representatives who called them names in public appearances: “I’ve never heard of an impolite response mainly because the Congress member has a staff of political strategists who realize that this sort of reponse would not give him the appropriate appearance as a civil servant. It is possible, though, especially if the Congress member happens to be responding to just ONE person. Today, if enough people all email a Congress member about the same issue, like it happened with SOPA and PIPA, the Congress member’s office will tailor an official response to send to thousands of emails that initially emailed that member’s office”, Taylor explains.
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is the second bill introduced by Lamar S. Smith on October 26th 2011 to expand the ability of US law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Opponents say the proposed legislation threatens free speech and innovation and enables law enforcement to block access to entire internet domains due to infringing material posted on a single blog or webpage. Just like PIPA, the used words to construct the laws have deeper meanings which can do more wrong than right.
On December 17th 2011, opponents proposed OPEN (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act) as alternative. But on January 20th 2012, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith postponed plans to draft the bill. Senator Ron Wyden said on proposing OPEN: “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. We must avoid creating new cyber security risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet”.
“What frustrated me the most before 2012 was that NONE of the news media was talking about it on television even though the internet was on fire with rage about the issue. The biggest news channels – CNN, Fox News, MSNBC – are all owned by companies that sponsored the bill. Around January 15th or so, CNN finally started to cover the issue and they even mentioned that their parent company was a sponsor of the legislation. After January 18th, it was the only thing CNN was covering almost all day long. Fox News totally ignored it”, says Taylor which thinks Anonymous is to be thanked to for initially spreading the word about all this. “I used not to trust them but their charm is warming me up. I will never forget what they did to prevent these terrible things from happening”. If you wonder what is it that they did, you can read more HERE. But briefly put, they did what hackers do, messed up governmental sites among others.
You might think that SOPA and PIPA don’t affect you much simply because it doesn’t happen close to you. Not to worry because ACTA’s purpose is to unite as many countries as possible on the matter of property rights enforcement, Romania included.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement goes a long way back, longest out of all three bills mentioned. ACTA was first developed by Japan and USA in 2006, but official negotiations began in June 2008. It first became public in May 2008 after a discussion paper was uploaded on Wikileaks. After more leaks in 2009 and 2010 and denied requests for disclosure by groups such s Doctors Withour Borders, IP Justice, the Canadian Library Association and Consumers Union in Japan, the negotiating parties published an official version of the then current draft on April 20th 2010. A signing ceremony took place in Tokyo, Japan on October 1st 2011. Article 39 of ACTA states that countries can sign the treaty until 31 March 2013. Reportedly, the European Parliament has the final decision over whether the treaty is dismissed or enacted. Poland announced on January 19 that it will sign the treaty on January 26 2012. Number of Polish governmental websites, including that of the President and the Polish Parliament were shut down by denied of service attacks (DDoS attacks as commonly known) that started on January 21st. Read more about Poland HERE.
On 24th 2012, members of the European Parliament “passed a resolution welcoming it as a step in the right direction, but calling on the European Commission to confirm that it will have no impact on basic freedoms and existing EU legislation.”
To make sure representatives are taking care of your interests, do follow www.europarl.europa.eu/ and write to members about your position on the matter. Romania’s representatives can be found HERE so do write to them and say you’re against ACTA.
Later edit: Out of 31 Romanian representatives in the European Parliament, 15 voted pro ACTA, 14 against and 2 were absent. HERE you can read who voted what. The vote is dated 24.11.2010. Have you heard of it up to the SOPA/PIPA debate? I haven’t.
The 15 that voted pro are: email@example.com,
Write them an email and tell them you are disappointed with their decision. Just a few lines stating this.
LATER EDIT: I didn’t pay attention to the document and mislead you by giving wrong information. The document, Romania included voted, in November 2010 was not a pro ACTA bill, but a resolution that was asking for guarantees that ACTA will not be against free expression. Thus, the names I gave above as being those of the ‘mean’ guys that voted pro ACTA were in fact the ones that voted pro resolution, the good kind. So the names of those that didn’t want any further clarification on ACTA are:
|1||Elena Oana ANTONESCU||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
|3||Sebastian Valentin BODU||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
|4||Petru Constantin LUHAN||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
|5||Monica Luisa MACOVEI||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
|9||Cristian Dan PREDA||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
|11||Theodor Dumitru STOLOJAN||EPP||Romania||Loyal||Rebel|
ACTA procedure in EU Parliament
- The International Trade (INTA) Committee of the European Parliament is the main committee working on ACTA.
- The Legal Affairs (JURI), Development (DEVE), Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Industry (ITRE) committees will first vote on their opinions after holding “exchange of views” on draft reports in the coming weeks.
- Opinions will then be sent to INTA to influence its final report, which will recommend the EU Parliament as a whole to reject or accept ACTA.
- The final, plenary vote by the EU Parliament on ACTA should be held no sooner than June.
Read more about it and about what you can do HERE.
You can sign against ACTA HERE.