'Online piracy bills will change the Internet'

Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) will give “legitimacy to censorship," Wikimedia Israel spokesperson says.

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January 19, 2012 03:20
3 minute read.
Wikipedia blackout.

Wikipedia blackout 311. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

 
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Two new anti-online piracy bills being debated by the US Congress pose a threat to the very nature of the Internet itself, a representative from Wikimedia Israel said on Wednesday.

Itzik Edri, Wikimedia Israel spokesman, said Wednesday “the laws will change the Internet as we know it,” and that the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) will give “legitimacy to censorship in the States and elsewhere. When people see that this major power makes these sorts of laws other people will too, so it’s dangerous.”

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RELATED:
Wikipedia plans 24-hour blackout as protest

The user-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the 5th most-visited website in America, suspended its English- language services on Wednesday, running instead a black screen that read “for over a decade we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”

The US Department of Justice would be able to pursue court orders against websites located outside of US jurisdiction accused of committing or abetting copyright infringement.

Once the court order is issued, US Internet service providers could be ordered to stop doing business with sites that are believed to infringe on federal copyright laws.

The bills would allow the Attorney General to require search engines to remove links to the offending sites and for online service providers to stop financial transactions with the site.



The bill would also increase penalties for unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content.

The bills have drawn criticism because it is unclear how they would determine what an offending site is. Critics say they could potentially include legitimate websites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

In addition, there is concern that the law could be used for censorship purposes, if for instance, the US government ruled that a site like WikiLeaks was publishing copyrighted material they could seek an injunction that would block them from appearing in search-engine results.

Edri described how film studios and record companies, “the main sponsors of the bill", will be able to have a site taken down until the end of court proceedings, and that since launching a legal defense is so expensive, websites will be driven to remove all content that could be seen as breaking copyright laws.

Edri said that while steps need to be taken to protect artistic licensing online, this law would create a bigger problem by allowing for many legitimate sites to be punished for hosting content.

“There is no other country in the world where you can say to Google they can do this or that, only China,” he said.

Edri added that if the 160 or so Wikipedia Hebrew editors came to the decision that a piece of local legislation posed a threat to online freedom they would consider such a boycott, but that at the time they did not decide to take part in the boycott.

Edri described Wikipedia Hebrew as having a very large amount of influence in Israel, with an estimated 66 million page views per month. He said the site is around the 5th most visited in the country and that most Israelis visit the it once a day.

He said that the high number of articles in the Hebrew language on Wikipedia – around 130,000 – is out of proportion for the low number of Hebrew speakers in the world.

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