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Blackout: The Day the Internet
Went on Strike

012312-1 How often do you watch videos online?  Do you download music?  Have you ever uploaded a video with music? Do you use the internet to conduct research? Do you ever consider who owns the rights to those videos, music, or text? How often do you pay for what you use on the internet?

Now, imagine you are a songwriter, a musician, a writer, or a Hollywood actor. How would you prevent your work—your song, video, movie, book—from being shared online for free?

Copyright laws protect intellectual property and ensure owners receive royalties (money) when others use their work. In the olden days, not so long ago, musicians and actors, writers and innovators, sold their wares in stores. Consumers had to buy music (or books or things) in a store, and the musician (or writer or inventor) was paid royalties through that sale. The internet has changed all that. Now, material is available online, sometimes to download for free, other times to download for a fee from an unscrupulous pirating site. How now does a musician, a writer, an actor, or an inventor ensure that they will be paid for their work? How do they fight copyright infringement?

Now consider that the internet is a global connection. The site you download that tune from may originate in another country. The link to the video may reroute you to a site around the world. How do Americans ensure their work is handled properly, according to our copyright laws? It is a conundrum, and an understandably important task.

012312-2 Driven by the desire to protect intellectual property and prevent piracy (aka stealing), members of Congress wrote two bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act).  And that is what led the internet to go on strike. Led by Wikipedia, sites around the internet protested SOPA/PIPA with various degrees of self-imposed blackout on January 18, 2012. Wikipedia shut down its English site for the day. Google blacked out its logo and added links to anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA petitions. Demonstrators across the country voiced their objection to the bills.

On January 20, 2012, Representative Lamar Smith, author of SOPA, announced he is halting further consideration of the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he is also putting off a vote on SOPA to give the Judiciary Committee more time to work on a compromise.

SOPA and PIPA are pithy little acronyms; however, the issue is not simple.  It rolls politics, legal issues, business interests, and our Constitutional right to freedom of expression into one messy question: how do we protect intellectual property and user rights in the internet age? This week you will investigate SOPA/PIPA and the blackout protest.


012312-4 SOPA and PIPA are nicknamed the Bieber bills. Yes, this is in honor of Justin Bieber. Before YouTube catapulted Bieber to fame, he was just a kid with a good voice, a bad haircut, and a Simpson poster on his wall who uploaded videos of himself singing remakes of songs. Advocates insist SOPA and PIPA are meant to prevent piracy and streaming for illegal sale (not uploading); yet, critics worry the bills’ vague language could be used to target fans, like Bieber, who uploaded videos containing copyrighted lyrics and music. For a brief description of the bills and the furor surrounding them, watch the Guardian video, Explainer: understanding SOPA.

There are two sides to every debate. On one side of this debate are Hollywood, and music-related associations that represent clients with copyrighted materials. These agencies support SOPA and PIPA. What about other industries? Next, turn your attention to the infographic,Behind SOPA: What it means for business and innovationand explore how enforcing the bills will unfold, what some concerns are, and who falls on each side of the issue. To enlarge the image, click on the graphic. Create a Venn diagram to illustrate the differing opinions on SOPA and PIPA. Add branches from each circle to record additional notes. What industries stand on each side of the issue and how would the bills defeat or passage affect each side? Explain the fundamental right cited on each side of this debate. How do these rights add credibility to their position?

The opposition to SOPA/PIPA is organized and active. Learn more about the case against it at sopastrike.com. Begin by reading a timeline of the Bill. Open the links next to May 12, 2011 to see who sponsored SOPA and PIPA, to read the official summaries, and to view a list of companies and organizations in support and in opposition. From the timeline, you may also open the full text of each bill. Interested in learning about the financial connections between members of Congress and the companies lobbying for or against SOPA/PIPA?  Open the link to view the money trail—a list of financial contributions to members of Congress made by companies on both sides of the SOPA/PIPA debate. Continue to scroll down to read the complete history of these bills and the growing movement against them.

012312-3 Sopastrike lays out the case against SOPA and PIPA in the video Protect IP/SOPA breaks the internet. Watch the video, then scroll down to read a petition you may sign and send to Congress. Read about the numbers behind the internet blackout.  Scroll down to view screenshots of several sites’ homepage messages on blackout day. If you are interested, view a slideshow of geeks taking to the street, the anti-SOPA demonstration in New York. Finally, scroll down on the homepage for ideas how websites and individuals can fight SOPA and PIPA.