Google blackout logoIn the United States, the battle over Internet governance is on. Two days before the web ‘’blackout’’, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia tweeted: ‘’Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!’’.  On January 18th, Wikipedia joined hundreds of websites in a 24 hour ‘’blackout’’ to protest against the recent legislation Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) proposed at the US House of Representatives on October 26th 2011. On January 18th, any Wikipedia’s English-speaking user accessing the website could read  ‘’ Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge” written over a black background. Others, including Facebook and Google, chose less drastic measures to raise awareness of the proposed legislation, for example, Google visitors on the search engine webpage found the company’s logo ‘’blacked out’’ in protest against the American anti-piracy legislation.

Currently, in the United States, the pro-legislation debate is focusing on protecting intellectual property and impeding copyright infringement from ‘’rogue websites’’.

The two controversial bills include the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced in the US House, and Protect IP Act (PIPA), the US Senate version of the bill.  SOPA aims to identify and take-down websites involved in copyright infringement through the enforcement of new liability rules, by holding Internet site providers, search engines and social networks responsible for monitoring their users' content and by blocking access to ''rogue websites''.

 Advocating against the proposed legislation, Wikipedia, Google, Expedia, Yahoo,, eBay, IAC and Bloomberg LP formed Net-coalition. This platform is used by these Internet-based companies to publish their discontent with the proposed legislation. According to Net-coalition, ‘’PIPA is the new SOPA’’. 

Strong critics of SOPA condemn the proposed legislation by suggesting that it will curtail the growth of an environment favorable to innovation and create a threat to web-related services and Internet-based economy.

Companies in favor of the anti-piracy legislation are mainly from the entertainment industry, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America and the US Chamber of Commerce. For instance, MPAA has stated that ‘’rogue websites’’ are currently threatening more than 2.2 million American jobs in the film and television industry.

This ongoing battle to establish the benchmarks for Internet governance in the United States has highlighted the struggle to effectively protect intellectual property and establish anti-piracy measures. Some argue in favor of fighting Internet censorship while others continue to advocate for the full protection of American jobs in the entertainment industry. What seems clear is that the current legislation, mainly SOPA, does need to be reconsidered; strong reservations have been expressed about its negative impact on the Internet-based industry. However, the question remains: how should the Internet be governed? Is the ultimate solution to give governments more power over the Internet by establishing increased regulations?


(Photo © DR)