Massive online protests helped bring two controversial anti-piracy bills to a halt last week, but the fight against copyright infringement is far from over.
And the impact of the bills would have a drastic affect on the lives of college students.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) were introduced in the House and Senate, respectively, to expand the ability of the government to fight online piracy and copyright infringement.
The two bills gathered a ton of support from various media giants in the cable, movie, and music industries, perhaps most notably the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.
While Hollywood is fully behind the proposed bills, they faced adamant opposition from Internet companies such as Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, eBay, Mozilla and Reddit.
Fearing Internet censorship and restrictions of freedom of speech, online opponents held what is now considered the largest online protest in history on Jan. 18.
Wikipedia, which blacked-out its English site, and Google, which had a blackout bar on its homepage linking to an online petition, were joined by thousands of other web sites in the protest.
And their actions worked.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to protect digital free speech rights, more than a million messages were sent to Congress, while more than 4.5 million people signed Google’s petition.
Two days following the protest, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar S. Smith, who originally introducedSOPA, postponed the bill until wider agreement could be made.
Following suit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that a vote on PIPA would also be postponed until the issues with it are resolved.
The influence of large corporations on the political spectrum was highlighted by the protests, but the impact the popular Internet companies had on public opinion proved even greater.
“I think what’s interesting is those companies have an easy way to rally the troops that other interest groups don’t have,” Heather Frederick, a political science professor at Slippery Rock University, said.
Frederick noted how people pay closer attention to a political issue supported by companies that are integrated into their daily lives.
“Many people rely on those websites on a regular basis. So if someone uses Wikipedia day-to-day they’re going to wonder what is going on when it’s not available,” Frederick said.
While opponents had a small victory last week, no one expects the fight to control online piracy to end.
And any future legislation similar to the SOPA and PIPA bills would have a major effect on college students, mainly in a negative way.
That is why the majority of college students, who grew up in the digital age, oppose at least some aspects of the bills.
“I’m against it 100 percent,” Ron O’Dell, 18, a freshman computer science major at Slippery Rock University, said. “I’m against it because basically any website that allows people to post opinions would be in trouble.”
If SOPA and PIPA were passed as currently written, publicly edited websites like Wikipedia — a free online encyclopedia widely used by college students — could be shut down if any one of their thousands pages contained illegally copyrighted information or even external links to other websites in violation of copyright infringement.
O’Dell cites Wikipedia as a vital part of his academic life, and is worrisome of difficulties that could occur if a similar bill as SOPA or PIPA was passed.
“Anytime I look anything up, it’s the first place I go,” O’Dell said of the online encyclopedia. “I go there daily. If it were shut down, it would definitely take a lot of extra time to find other sources, making studying more difficult.
But the bills could harm student’s online study habits in more ways than taking away Wikipedia.
“It would affect us a lot,” O’Dell said of the bill’s impact on students. “Especially on sites or blogs where students can post questions concerning their studies. If any of the information being shared was copyrighted, the site could be shut down.”
It would also affect students that utilize social media, as links posted by an individual on a social networking site could also be monitored and censored.
Other popular forms of online entertainment widely used by college students would also be subject to censorship.
YouTube, for example, would be at risk immediately, as many videos uploaded on the video hosting website contain infringed material.
Objection to easily accessible pirated material is a factor in why many people, especially young adults, are against the bills.
It is no secret that millions of Americans make the choice to illegally download music and movies every year.
But many students understand and support opposition to online piracy. The general consensus is, however, that there are more practical solutions out there to combat the piracy problem that don’t take away individual’s free speech rights.
“We understand why they want to protect copyrighted files,” O’Dell said. “People deserve to make money off of their work. But that doesn’t give the government the right to shut down entire legitimate websites. There are ways to prevent the spread of piracy without shutting down those sites.”
One thing is certain, the impact the proposed bill could have on students caught the attention of many students who rarely take more than a slight interest in politics.
“Everyone I talk to is paying attention to it,”O’Dell said.