From the desk of...
George Spellwin - Founder
Dear Friend and Fellow Athlete,
If enacted, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would give the American government complete control over what sites US residents can and can’t view. In short, the government could shut down websites with steroid-related material, completely stop you from getting gear, and halt access to any site they don’t agree with.
Excluding the Draconian laws against anabolic steroids, the United States is one of the freest countries in the world. You can say negative things about the government without drawing a rifle butt to the head, you are free to live anywhere in the country, and you can browse whatever you like online. Unfortunately, the latter freedom could change in a major way if the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is passed. In fact, you might not have any freedom at all when it comes to internet surfing if SOPA ever comes to fruition. That said, let’s take a look at the details of this horrid bill to see how it could affect you, and also review some of the latest online atrocities the government has committed.
Like most laws, SOPA was created with good intentions since it’s designed to prevent millions of people from downloading music and movies without paying. The bill was introduced by Texas Representative Lamar Smith, and the main goal is to reprimand websites that offer free music, movie, ebook and software downloads
The means for making this happen include IP address blocking and DNS (domain name system) filtering. In other words, the US government would be able to restrict Americans from visiting any site that promotes online piracy, or anything else they object to. SOPA is still being debated in Congress, so there’s no telling if it will become law or not. However, if the bill did pass, it would certainly give the American government plenty of power over the internet.
Additionally, there is another proposed law that’s very similar to SOPA – although not as widely discussed – and it’s called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). This law is aimed at overseas websites, and it gives the United States Department of Justice the right to essentially cut targeted sites off from the rest of the internet. Under PIPA, the US DOJ could order financial institutions to stop servicing certain websites, halt advertising services, and force search engines like Google to remove access to these sites.
Getting back to the Stop Online Piracy Act, this law is designed to discourage illegal downloading, which costs both record companies and movie studios billions of dollars every year. But what’s horrifying is that such a bill also gives Uncle Sam the ability to punish any website that they disagree with.
For example, the US has some of the strictest laws against steroids in the world, so because of this, they might block Americans from visiting any site with steroid-related information. Assuming this happened, bodybuilders would have trouble finding quality information on juicing because they’d be cut off from steroid-related websites. Furthermore, the American government could go as far as to shut down sites they don’t like under the guise of SOPA. So looking at this from an overall perspective, the bill just gives lawmakers too much power over what people can and can’t view.
SOPA/PIPA Opponents and Attacks
Fortunately, there are some very powerful enemies of SOPA and PIPA, including major search engines like Google and Yahoo. Their argument against the bill is that it’s too difficult to distinguish what websites are violating laws. For example, would it be fair to shut down an online forum where a rogue user posted links to free movie downloads? Or would it be alright to shut down Twitter because somebody posted anti-government remarks on there?
Some websites have already drawn conclusions to these questions, and are doing everything in their power to make people aware of SOPA’s potential injustices. On January 18th, 2012, Wikipedia.com, Reddit.com, and over 7,000 other sites coordinated a 24-hour blackout to protest against SOPA and PIPA. Google also got involved by collecting over 7 million signatures against these two laws, and boycotting companies that are in favor of increasing the government’s online role.
Additional support has come from a mysterious hacktivist group called “Anonymous,” which has led website attacks against many of SOPA’s biggest supporters. CBS.com and the Recording Industry of America’s site (RIAA.com) were two of the most high-profile websites that were hampered and slowed down as a result of Anonymous’ attacks. The rogue group used denial-of-service (DoS) attacks to make these websites temporarily unavailable to intended users. The timing of the DoS actions coincided heavily with the Megaupload shutdown, which we’ll explain below.
On January 19th, one of the largest file-sharing websites in the world was shut down when the US DOJ took action against Megaupload.com. Going further, the Hong Kong-based company had HK$330 million (approx. US$42.5m) in assets frozen during the shutdown and their domain names seized. The US DOJ also arrested Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom along with several other high-ranking members of the company.
The driving force behind this case was that Megaupload engaged in a number of illegal activities such as encouraging the download and sharing of popular files, and not punishing users who engaged in file sharing. Seeing as how neither SOPA nor PIPA has actually been enacted, many people question the need for these laws since the US government took Megaupload down without them. I’m right along with these people too since SOPA and PIPA could encourage the government to start going after non-file-sharing sites as well.
Sure there are cases out there where websites like Megaupload blatantly encourage free music and movie downloads in order to draw visitors. And I don’t have a huge problem with shutting these sites down when they’re aiding illegal downloads. However, I’d hate to see the day where laws like SOPA and PIPA give the government absolute power over the flow of information on the Internet!
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