The proposed Internet blackout of January 18th, 2012 wasn’t necessarily a threat made by the major players in the online arena: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Etc. Moreover it was the concept of a silent protest. It was a sit-in. A week later, we now know that it wasn’t going to come to fruition exactly as outlined. Sure, Google blacked out its logo and Wikipedia was down for a while, but the action didn’t really have the power of the proposal.
Some, the blackout angered.In a Letter to the Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, Thomas H. Fegan writes “Wikipedia has acted childishly in ‘taking its ball and going home.’ It has missed the opportunity of a lifetime to conduct a good serious discussion about the concept of copyright law and how the new technologies have affected it and what new approaches may be needed.” He urges Wikipedia to “Grow up” and just on the heels of a donation drive in which Wikipedia asked its users to donate millions of dollars to keep the site running. To people like Thomas, the Internet turned its back on him at a time when he believes a more rational solution was available.
Some, the blackout swayed.Eurogamer reports that a number of high-profile US politicians who supported the acts, including Senators Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt, Orrin Hatch and Ben Cardin, have reversed their positions on the proposed bills. In congress, Ben Quayle, Dennis Ross and Lee Terry withdrew their support. It’s incredible to note the political power that the advent of the Internet has put into the hands of online companies, especially considering that the Internet is such a relatively new concept in the history of society.
Some, the blackout united. The major Internet players mentioned previously, as well as smaller companies like Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkedIn, Mozilla and Zynga are now aware that they have clout not only with the people, but with the politicians. It’s unlikely after this display of conviction that any bills targeting Internet freedom will pass, but is that as far as the power extends? Is it really out of the realm of possibility that when companies like Google begin lobbying for unrelated bills in congress that the people will want to listen?
On the other side of the coin, industry leaders in Hollywood, Rupert Murdoch, the US Chamber of Commerce and the MPAA will all no-doubt find renewed zeal in this defeat and come back stronger in their advocacy for the elimination of online piracy. They have a point. We now live in an age where everyone has a blog and a Youtube channel and a Tumblr and can put themselves out there to the masses. This doesn’t mean that artists shouldn’t be paid for their endeavors. The problem is that the line between professional artist and amateur enthusiast has become blurred, and with unlimited, easy access to both, people no longer consider the ramifications of downloading a viral video versus a Paramount Pictures production.
Andy Warhol was obviously thinking about the Internet when he concluded we’d all have fifteen minutes of fame. However, that fifteen minutes is quickly turning into an eternity as our online representation of ourselves becomes a larger and larger part of who we are. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the ability to connect with people around the world and in your own community has never been easier. SOPA and PIPA exist for a seemingly noble purpose: to stop Internet piracy. The broad wording of the documentation has led many to believe that these bills represent a conscription of our Internet freedom.
In many ways, this has ended positively. People have been given a chance to see which side they are on regarding limitations of our inalienable rights. The power of the Internet was made abundantly clear last week, and the way it is governed in the future may very well become a microcosm of how we govern ourselves as a society.