The Internet Goes Dark

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The Internet Goes Dark

SOPA and PIPA inspired protests both online and on the streets.

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's indisputable that digital piracy exists. But almost everything else about piracy is up for debate. How widespread is the problem? How much damage does piracy cause? What is the right way to address the issue? Depending upon whom you ask, you're bound to receive very different answers from these questions.

Another indisputable fact is that institutions that represent copyright holders have a great deal of influence. Organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns. These groups have a vested interest in wiping out piracy. Some politicians have attempted to follow through by proposing legislation that would make it easier to prosecute people for violating intellectual property.

Two such pieces of legislation were the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The U.S. House of Representatives debated SOPA, while the Senate considered PIPA. Both proposed pieces of law aimed to curtail copyright infringement.

The laws would have given law enforcement agencies the authority to demand companies to remove foreign sites hosting illegal material from domain name servers. This would make it difficult for anyone in America to access those sites. It's like blocking off a road -- people wouldn't be able to reach any businesses along that road.

Opponents to the legislation took to the Internet to protest and to inform people of the possible consequences should the legislation pass into law. On Jan. 18, 2012, several sites participated in a SOPA-inspired blackout. Sites like Wikipedia and Reddit replaced their normal pages with information about SOPA and PIPA. Eventually, both SOPA and PIPA faded from view as criticisms mounted and lawmakers withdrew their support for both measures.

Honorable Mention: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) also grabbed headlines in 2012. The purpose of the legislation was to increase cybersecurity, but opponents said it would violate practically every privacy law on the books. The House of Representatives passed CISPA but it languished in the Senate. Since then, senators proposed a different approach with the Cybersecurity Act of 2012.

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