Ng: Pending bills on Internet

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Thursday, January 19, 2012


AS I am writing this, the whole Internet is agog over and in almost open revolt against SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) bills that will be deliberated on in the US Congress starting next week.

As I write this, the English Wikipedia is not accessible. This venerable encyclopedia, with over three million articles in the English edition alone, is generally regarded as the most comprehensive reference tool anywhere. It chose to go black and went down for 24 hours to protest against Sopa. If you go to Google search, you will note that its usual color has been wiped out. It now tells people not to support the bill.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has over 10 million subscribers to his updates but he seldom posts anything more than once every few months. He also came out with an appeal against Sopa. Yahoo is also opposing it.

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What are these bills and why are these so controversial?

These two bills are mainly supported by media companies and are meant to stop illegal downloading of films, song and probably software. Both are targeted at foreign websites that pirate these materials. According to an industry study, 17.5 percent of all bandwidth in the US is taken up by illegal downloads.

These two bills would essentially give US courts the ability to cut off access in the United States to websites that are based overseas that are accused of trading pirated or counterfeit materials. It would also give the government the ability to ask credit card companies, online advertisers and Internet service providers to not do business with these websites. That means that by cutting off their ability to receive credit card payments, advertisements or get American customers, the bill will make it unviable for pirate websites to operate profitably.

Many website companies are worried that they may be targeted for unknowingly hosting pirated materials. After all, if you think about Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia or most social sites, a lot of their traffic comes from user generated material. Many also
fear it would stifle creativity and may have unintended consequences.

While the people who are for the bill say that it will help protect budding artists and recording companies, others are not so sure. They point out that pop icon Justin Bieber got his start on YouTube performing music of other singers. He may not have had the break he got if the copyright was so strict.

Because of the opposition, some lawmakers have reportedly mellowed in their support for the bill. Even the White House has cautioned against proceeding with it. As it is, there are probably only few congressmen who would risk their careers in supporting what is widely viewed as a very risky bill with waning support.

(www.twitter.com/wilsonng)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 20, 2012.

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