Charleston was overcast Wednesday, but parts of the Internet were even darker as several heavily trafficked websites partially or totally blacked out their content to protest a pair of controversial bills in Congress that aim to combat movie and music piracy but may also threaten the Web’s free spirit.
The debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) pits Hollywood, the recording industry and other intellectual property-dependent businesses against a more diffuse group of open Internet advocates that also includes giants like Google and Wikipedia.
Proponents want stronger weapons against the spread of pirated movies and songs, like requiring more policing of search engines and community sharing sites like Wikipedia. But those sites worry that the intellectual property owners and federal law enforcement could hammer them for a relatively small percentage of infringing content amid vast quantities of legal material.
Noah Everett, the founder of photo-sharing site Twitpic and microblogging platform Heello, said Wednesday that he knows unauthorized file-sharing is a problem — Twitpic already gets takedown notices and responds to them — but he’s concerned about the possibility sites like his could be shut down entirely without due process.
“Online piracy is an issue to deal with, but this is the wrong way to go about it,” he said Wednesday, when Twitpic blocked the logo on its website and linked to anti-SOPA advocacy. “Instead of having such a broad scope about it, they need to be more pinpoint.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham confirmed his support of the thrust of the bills Wednesday but said “the websites and the technological side of the equation have raised some really legitimate questions.” He hoped for a middle-ground solution to the “dilemma.”
“I consider intellectual property real property, but I do believe the content part of the debate has been very resistant to technological changes,” he said. “And if this bill can be made better, let’s do it.”
Graham wants as much media to get out to the public “as cheap as possible” but if there’s no revenue stream for the creators, there won’t be anything left to consume.
“You’re going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg,” Graham warned.
Both bills are still pending in Congress.