Article by: Julian Weisser
In terms of what has occurred for both music copyright and the Internet, the last few days have been absolutely monumental. SOPA went from being a confusing piece of legislation feared and hated by the technology community to a widespread and well-recognized human rights threat to all citizens. Megaupload went from a celebrity-endorsed question mark to a federally raided business buried beneath numerous indictments of infringement. The orders of events seem too well timed to be a coincidence.
Nearly every company that has a stake in intellectual property has come out publicly in support of SOPA. ASCAP and BMI were the first performance rights organizations to appear on the list of supporters and I had instantly noticed that SESAC was absent. Being a concerned citizen of the Internet and a SESAC affiliate I decided it was time to reach out to the company and see what their stance was. I sent off an email on Christmas day to a VP at SESAC and received my first response in less than 24 hours. We had one more back and forth email exchange but no clear statement was given at that time.
Though the contents of these emails were labeled as confidential I can disclose that 17 days after the initial response SESAC bulk mailed the following to all affiliates, choosing to make their voice heard after first watching for any initial fallout such as what happened to GoDaddy:
For SOPA and PIPA, two bills that had been proposed to protect rights holders while heavily restricting the Internet, the time had finally come for the threat of reduced freedoms to burst the bubble and go viral. A day of action had been planned and although Reuters had the audacity to publish an article titled, “Internet blackout against U.S. law fails to enlist big sites,” Wikipedia was more than enough to give the average citizen an idea of how distasteful a restricted Internet could be.
Those that knew of the Wikipedia blackout in advance probably chuckled when they accidentally tried to open the site in their browser only to be reminded of why they were being denied information. Something that was once used instinctively was no longer available and the feelings of being denied that were strong. People that were unaware of the blackout came away educated in a different topic than they had visited Wikipedia for. Many visitors ended up writing their representatives and taking to various social networking platforms to discuss what they had read.
During the Anti-SOPA day of action, the MPAA tried futilely to combat the anti-SOPA sentiments burning through Twitter and igniting the trending topics by posting links to incendiary articles such as “Wikipedia outage sparks rage on Twitter” by CBS news. These articles, titled to increase page views and controversy, tried to shift hate back at Wikipedia for denying free information for a day as their chosen form of protest. The vast majority of tweets regarding Wikipedia being shut down were anti-SOPA with many related trending topics such as #factswithoutwikipedia.
Many websites felt that completely blacking out was not the best business practice and that they should instead educate their visitors without denying them access. Google’s simple blacked-out logo and small hyperlink on the sparse homepage was more than enough to get the attention of Internet users. Today Google announced it had collected more than 7 million signatures from the US for their online petition of the anti-piracy legislation.
This lengthy and successful day of action brought cheer to a fearful Internet community and enlightenment to millions that had previously been unfamiliar with the implications of SOPA. What happened the next day would become the greatest gift that the FBI could give anti-SOPA activists. Megaupload, a “file locker” used to upload and redistribute any kind of data, was taken down and charged with numerous allegations of copyright infringement. The site had been known for years in the Internet community for it’s blatant hosting of unauthorized content and membership plans that allowed paid users to download more content and faster.
According to Wired.com, Megaupload employees have been accused of having involvement with copyright infringement and a conspiracy to commit money laundering. Megaupload’s founder Kim Schmitz (also known as Kim Dotcom) has been previously convicted of numerous charges including credit card fraud, hacking, and embezzlement. Today Schmitz had his mansion, the most expensive in all of New Zealand, raided and his car collection valued at $4.8 million seized. As they were being towed away you could see the license plate on his Rolls-Royce Phantom read “GOD” and one of his Mercedes SUVs read “Mafia.”
The timing for this raid could not have been more perfect from an anti-SOPA standpoint because it proved that we can indeed end the most disturbing and widespread violations of copyright without passing legislation that sets the Internet back to the way it was in the early 1990s, completely stifling innovation. What may have been planned by law enforcement as a slap in the face to anti-SOPA supporters turned out to support the argument that we as a nation can protect copyrights as the laws currently stand. No one with ethics would ever come out in support of Megaupload as a company so most people (even pirates and hackers) were happy to see it go.
As new developments occur in technology to make the Internet a more open space the same occurs in the real world. SOPA and PIPA have been shelved indefinitely but what was learned over the past few days should not be forgotten: We the people can make an impact and confronting citizens with what they stand to lose is sometimes the best way to get through to them.