Caving to a massive campaign by internet services and their millions of users, which also included universities such as Syracuse and MIT, Congress on Jan. 20 indefinitely postponed legislation to stop the online piracy of movies and music that is costing U.S. companies billions of dollars every year. Critics said the bills would result in censorship and could add a major burden to colleges and universities.
The demise, at least for the time being, of the anti-piracy bills was a clear victory for Silicon Valley over Hollywood, which has campaigned for a tougher response to internet piracy. The legislation also would cover the counterfeiting of drugs and car parts.
Congress’ qualms underscored how internet users can use their collective might to block those who want to change the system.
The battle over the future of the internet also played out on a different front Jan. 19 when a loose affiliation of hackers known as “Anonymous” shut down Justice Department websites for several hours and hacked the site of the Motion Picture Association of America after federal officials issued an indictment against Megaupload.com, one of the world’s biggest file-sharing sites.
The site of the Hong Kong-based company was shut down, and the founder and three employees were arrested in New Zealand on U.S. accusations that they facilitated millions of illegal downloads of films, music, and other content, costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue. New Zealand police raided homes and businesses linked to the founder, Kim Dotcom, on Jan. 20 and seized guns, millions of dollars, and nearly $5 million in luxury cars, officials there said.
In the U.S., momentum against the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, known popularly as PIPA and SOPA, grew quickly on Jan. 18 when the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and other web giants staged a one-day blackout and Google organized a petition drive that attracted more than 7 million participants.
Syracuse and MIT joined the protest after higher-education groups, such as the educational technology advocacy group EDUCAUSE, said the bills would limit internet freedom on campus and expose schools to frivolous litigation. Campus librarians and IT staffers could be legally required to comb through digital traffic for signs of copyright violations if Congress enacted the legislation, higher-ed groups said.