Henry Greenfield, STAFF WRITER
On Friday, Jan. 20, majority leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate would postpone its vote on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) bill indefinitely. The House of Representatives has similarly put the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill on hold. These announcements came after widespread protest against the bills.
SOPA and PIPA would extend American copyright laws to foreign websites. According to the bills, if a foreign website were found sharing copyrighted content, that website could be removed from American Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or search engines.
Supporters of the bills, such as the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), say that SOPA and PIPA are necessary to protect intellectual property as well as jobs, which they claim are threatened when websites pirate copyrighted content made in America.
Opponents say that blocking websites from ISPs or search engines is equivalent to censorship and sets a dangerous precedent by giving the government authority to regulate the Internet. The White House does not support the bills.
Protest against SOPA and PIPA has been especially fervent on the Internet. On Jan. 18, websites like Wikipedia and Reddit participated in a day long “blackout” in opposition to the bills. Google also posted an online petition against the bills. The petition got about 4.5 million signatures. In addition to resistance online, protests were held in several major cities such as New York and San Francisco.
This backlash was strong enough to take SOPA and PIPA off the table for the time being. Immediately following the protests, at least a dozen senators who had previously supported PIPA switched their positions, claiming that the bill would need to be amended before they could vote in favor of it.
Even so, on Jan.19, the FBI, with assistance from New Zealand authorities, arrested Megaupload CEO Kim Dotcom in New Zealand where he is currently waiting extradition to the U.S. Dotcom and six others have been charged with violating U.S. copyright laws and money laundering. Shortly after the arrest, the Department of Justice shut down Megaupload. Before his arrest, the FBI had been investigating Kim Dotcom for two years. The Department of Justice was able to shut down Megaupload because of the PRO-IP act, which became law in 2008.
In response, the “hactivist” group Anonymous crashed ten websites including the Department of Justice, the FBI and the MPAA.
Mike Masnik of Techdirt.com believes that the government has overstepped its authority. “It certainly appears that the U.S. Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) don’t think they need any new law to go after people in foreign countries over claims of criminal copyright infringement.”