research design laboratory

Canadians Go Dark: 18.01.2012

At the time of writing this entry, there is a blackout in my neighbourhood. I've lit a candle, wrapped myself up in a sleeping bag and checked the battery life on my laptop: 5 hours and 4 minutes. It's winter, it's cold, it's dark. No light, no heat, no internet. This made me think more seriously about the impact of a blackout on Canadians - even if the metaphor is stretched a little for the point I'm about to make - it's about not having access to things you need and have become accustomed to.

If you're online today and remotely interested in internet policy, it's likely you get that I'm referencing the online protest -- a mass web blackout -- striking against SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are essentially two sides of the same anti-piracy coin. SOPA is the House of Representative’s version (House Bill HR. 3261), while PIPA resides in the Senate (Senate Bill S. 968).

If these bills pass, the Web - as we know it - will cease to exist. In brief, these would allow major media players such as the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to dictate the contents of the web, via the US government. The bills are framed by those in favour of it as a response to the loss of income (and control) incurred by the web, and more specifically, by infringements on copyright via illegal music and movie circulation --pirating-- outside of the US. So, if passed, the bills would give the US government the ability to pull the plug on any site they deemed infringing, block payments, make search engines into filters, and ISP into border guards. And all if this without a clear definition of what constitutes infringement and without due process: guilty until proven innocent.

Those not in favour of these bills - the large majority of well-informed web users - are pointing out the serious threat SOPA and PIPA pose to the web, if not to culture itself. SOPA and PIPA benefit absolutely nobody, not even those naively in support because they believe the bills to really be about copyright, and copyright to be about putting money in the hands of deserving creators. This is part of the reason popular sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, EFF, etc., are blacked out for the day, to protest two bills that attest to the stronghold of corporate media over government legislation. And why does this matter to Canadians? Because it foreshadows what's coming north. Because a lot of domain names for Canadian sites are registered in the US. Because the bills would cost millions upon millions of tax payers' money to implement. And because you can't change part of the internet without changing the internet - it's one giant beautiful mess and nobody's business to clean up.

For more on all this, I recommend Michael Geist: