or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

SOPA/PIPA Fight Continues

   January 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog

[don't censor the web]I thought it was great how many websites participated in yesterday's blackout protest of the SOPA and PIPA bills. Partly, because I ended up explaining what was going on to quite a few people.

BoingBoing has a quickie recap of the effect the protest had on some Senators and Congressmen, and SOPATrack.com allows you to view, by State, who supports, opposes, and is undecided about the bills - also, how much money they've accepted from pro- and anti-censorship lobbyists. According to FightForTheFuture.org, there are now 35 Senators publicly opposing PIPA. Last week there were 5. Huge success, but it takes 41 to stop the bill completely.

For what it's worth, here's a few anecdotes from my day:

  • A couple weeks ago, I used Senator Scott Brown's contact form to request a meeting with him to talk about PIPA. Nothing happened until yesterday, when I got a call from someone in his Boston office, thanking me for contacting them and saying Sen. Brown will oppose PIPA. That's great.
  • Next I tried to contact Senator John Kerry. I called his DC office and got a busy signal, then went to his website to get the number for his Boston office - but the website was down. I found the number elsewhere online, but when I called it rang and rang then went to voicemail, but then a message said the voicemail box was full. I was disappointed I couldn't contact my Senator, but hopefully that meant that so many other constituents were contacting him that his methods were just overwhelmed.

But it's not over. The Senate vote on PIPA is still scheduled for Tuesday, Jan 24th, so keep contacting your Senators and ask them to explain the bill. Also, it looks like SOPA is scheduled to be revived in February, so also contact your Members of Congress. XKCD had a great shortlist of links to check out:

WTF Wikipedia
Of course, the funniest part of yesterday were all the tweets from people who didn't know what was going on - lots of desperate students unable to do their homework, but of course it's bigger than that. Still, they're worth a skim.

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SOPA and Protect-IP Links

   January 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Website BlockedThis is the last cause I'll promote (for awhile), but it's a big one. Hopefully by now you've heard of the two bills in Congress that threaten the future of the internet - SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate.

If you're not sure how either of these will affect you (and libraries), here's a few quick descriptions I've seen recently:

From BoingBoing's SOPA and everyday Americans:

The harm that does to ordinary, non-infringing users is best described via a hypothetical user: Abe. Abe has never even so much as breathed on a company’s copyright but he does many of the things typical of Internet users today. He stores the photos of his children, now three and six years old, online at PickUpShelf* so that he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining backups. He is a teacher and keeps copies of his classes accessible for his students via another service called SunStream that makes streaming audio and video easy. He engages frequently in conversation in several online communities and has developed a hard-won reputation and following on a discussion host called SpeakFree. And, of course, he has a blog called “Abe’s Truths” that is hosted on a site called NewLeaflet. He has never infringed on any copyright and each of the entities charged with enforcing SOPA know that he hasn’t.

And yet, none of that matters. Under SOPA, every single one of the services that Abe uses can be obliterated from his view without him having any remedy. Abe may wake up one morning and not be able to access any of his photos of his children. Neither he, nor his students, would be able to access any of his lectures. His trove of smart online discussions would likewise evaporate and he wouldn’t even be able to complain about it on his blog. And, in every case, he has absolutely no power to try to regain access. That may sound far-fetched but under SOPA, all that needs to happen for this scenario to come true is for the Attorney General to decide that some part of PickUpShelf, SunStream, SpeakFree and NewLeaflet would be copyright infringement in the US. If a court agrees, and with no guarantee of an adversarial proceeding that seems very likely, the entire site is “disappeared” from the US internet. When that happens Abe has NO remedy. None. No way of getting the photos of his kids other than leaving the United States for a country that doesn’t have overly broad censorship laws.

A much more succinct description, from Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro (also via BoingBoing):

[SOPA is championed by] politicians who are proudly unfamiliar with how the internet works, but who are well familiar with favors from well-heeled copyright extremists.

And Stephen Colbert explains it well too:

The Colbert Report
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[video link]

Of course there's lots more reading to be done on this if you're interested:

No call to action will work unless people actually take action. Right now many Congressmen and Senators are still at home on vacation, but will be back in session in the next week or two. Now is the time to contact them, as them to explain what these bills are, and urge them to vote against them. Here are some things to help:

But most importantly, if you're not already familiar with SOPA and Protect-IP, read through some of these links - it's worth it. Thanks.

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