Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Blacking out.

(Image from here.)

January 18 is designated as an internet-wide day of protest. Websites everywhere, including biggies such as Wikipedia and Reddit are joining in. I'm a small fish, but I'm definitely supportive.

The issue - in case you hadn't heard - are two bills being debated in congress right now. The "Stop On-line Piracy Act" (SOPA) is in the House. The "Protect IP Act" (PIPA) is in the Senate. Both are being pushed by the recording industry, Hollywood, and other big-dollar lobbyists. The laws are too vague, too powerful, and have no policies spelled out for implementation. It gives content owners (lobbyists, essentially) the ability to BLACK OUT ENTIRE WEB SITES, without any appeal, any procedure, nothing. Just click and it's gone.

For instance: Say you're YouTube. Someone posts a recording they made of a Loony Toons cartoon. Instead of pulling or blocking the single cartoon recording (which is how it's handled now, fairly, IMHO), these laws would make it possible to completely black out the entire web site.

Technically, Ravelry could be shut down for copyright violation if someone posted a video of content they didn't own. Whole web site, poof. Because one twit on a message board violated copyright law.

Because there's nothing laid out in terms of logistics, requirements for a take-down, these bills could be used to black out or shut down anything the lobbyists don't like the looks of.

Censorship, in a word.

I've nothing whatsoever against copyright protecting peoples intellectual property. But shutting down whole sites based on the behavior of a single user who isn't even on staff? That's just insane.

You can read an excellent summary of the laws, HERE.

Don't like it? Good. Neither do I. The house has sort of backed down on SOPA, saying they would shelve it indefinitely. However, that still allows them to revive it at any time. And PIPA is still up for a vote in the Senate. You can track down your representatives, see where they stand on these bills, and e-mail their sorry asses. Here's a great web site for keeping track of congress.

Overseas? E-mail anyway. These bills would allow blacking-out of overseas sites, too, and certainly sites whose servers are in this country, that you use, to be shut down. Start with the guy in the senate who is sponsoring PIPA, Patrick Leahy.

The really alarming thing about this whole thing is reading the comments of the jerks sponsoring these bills, and realizing they're clueless about internet infrastructure and how the whole thing works. Really, really alarming.

Like most of the other political issues I blog about, I see this as a civil rights issue. It doesn't matter if you're liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, atheist or religious. You should have the right to say what you want, when you want, without Big Brother blocking your web site. So happy knitting, and I'll see you on the 19th.

ETA: Just found THIS WEBSITE, which is what's going on, all in one handy place. 


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Emily said...

This is horrifying. I didn't know this was happening. I was a news junkie until George W took us to war,at which point I plopped my head in the sand...lalalala. So today all these sites were blacked out and I didn't know it was a protest; I thought we lost our country. As we still could...

GrillTech said...

I had this all written up and posted at work and then found it it didn't post. So I'm trying again.
WARNING - this will contain some geekspeak, read it all the way through and I'll translate.

One the issues with SOPA/PIPA is that is simply won't work. The method that they are trying to use to "block" these sites is by blocking DNS. For those that don't know what DNS is let me explain.

When you type an address into your browser i.e. www.ravelry.com, your browser contacts a DNS server to find out what the actual internet address (IP). The browser then connects to that address. So in the case of ravelry.com the actual address is You can test this by just typing in your browser and hitting enter. It will still go to ravelry. So what SOPA/PIPA does is breaks that link. Basically it blocks the address at the DNS server so your browser can't get the address. They are not actually turning off the server that hosts the website or blocking the link it has to the internet.

To convert this from geekspeak think of it this way. On your phone you have a list of numbers with names. When you want to call someone you don't just manually type the phone number, you bring up a list and choose the name you want to call. If I was to go in and delete or block this list you would still be able to make the call as long as you knew the phone number.

There is a large number of websites that on what is called the Blacknet or Darknet. These are sites that don't appear on search engines or have real addresses. They are only available via Internet(IP) addresses. There are also people gathering up lists of internet addresses so that if SOPA/PIPA blocks a site it will still be available. The tech savvy will always find a work around.

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Amy Lane said...

God, I've got to stay off Twitter-- politics are exhausting me, and it just doesn't seem to get better. But I'm proud of knowing about this--and signing petitions and stuff.