If you check free online encyclopedia Wikipedia often, then you might have noticed that all pages on the English version of the site were blacked out for 24 hours beginning at midnight on January 18, Eastern Standard Time. Instead of the usual content, each page showed a protest against two laws being lobbied in the US Congress. According to Wiki, these are designed to curb Internet freedom.

"Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge," the Wikipedia splash page read. "For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia."

Wikipedia's efforts are part of the mass protest of Web giants against the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA), which US legislation shelved this January for redrafting, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, the Senate counterpart of the bill, which will be voted upon on January 24. Among other sites that joined the protest are Reddit and Google. The latter blacked out their logo and put a link to a primer on the SOPA on their homepage.

But what exactly is SOPA, and why should you care about it? Read on for a short primer.


WHAT IS SOPA?

According to CNNMoney, SOPA, short for the Stop Internet Piracy Act, is a bill aimed at curbing coypright infringement in the US by having sites, notably foreign ones, that host pirated content shut down or regulated by cutting off their use of US services. Should a site be found to be "committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations," US companies will stop providing them ads, they will no longer be able use services like Visa and Paypal for payment from their consumers, and they will be forcibly removed from search engines.


WHY IS EVERYONE MAKING SO MUCH NOISE ABOUT IT?

While both sides agree that copyright infringement is an issue that should be addressed, anti-SOPA advocates point out that the bill's provisions are written in such a way that they promote censorship. Not just the site that posted infringing content but anyone who posts a link to it could be punished. Sites that don't directly infringe but allow mechanisms that could be used for piracy (read: YouTube and Facebook) will be classified as "dedicated to theft of US property," reports IBTimes.com, which means they could get shut down should they be ordered to. Google has even said that YouTube would never have existed had the bill been passed in 2004. At the very least, they will have to police all user-generated content closely in order to function. The government also has the right to issue a copyright infringement notice should they deem a website as violating the SOPA.


HOW DOES IT AFFECT ME?

While you might not live in the US, the SOPA still affects you:

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  • If you're a social media user or a blogger, you risk being sued or fined for using a particular song as background music for that video you uploaded on YouTube or for posting a screencap from your favorite TV show.
  • If you're a website owner, you immediately become a SOPA violator if you decide not to constantly screen all the content you post or that others post for infringement.
  • If you're a casual user, you might suddenly find yourself blocked from several websites on the Internet or encounter chunks of missing content. Things like videos that have been pulled down or the massive removal of content from your favorite sites (if not their total disappearance) can happen should they be deemed copyright infringers or sites that allow piracy.



WHICH INSTITUTIONS ARE FOR/AGAINST IT?

Pro-SOPA

  • Nintendo
  • Motion Picture Association of America
  • Recording Industry Association of America
  • Sony Music
  • Sony Pictures
  • Warner Music Group
  • Wal-Mart
  • ViaCom
  • NBCUniversal
  • Toshiba


Anti-SOPA

  • Google
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo!
  • eBay
  • Wikipedia
  • Reddit
  • Mozilla
  • Wordpress.org
  • AOL



I DON'T THINK SOPA SHOULD BE PASSED. WHAT CAN I DO?

People who aren't in the US can petition the State Department so that they will speak out against this issue. You can also check out this list of ways to show your support for the anti-SOPA protests on HuffingtonPost.com.


What do you think of the SOPA, FNites? Take our poll and let us know!


(Screencap courtesy of Wikipedia)

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