Piracy acts could impact students
By Noah Reichblum, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, January 19, 2012
The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act — two pieces of legislation aimed at curbing internet piracy — would likely affect Dartmouth students who pirate media or frequent smaller websites that link to external content, according to professors and students interview by The Dartmouth.
The House and Senate bills, introduced in October and May of 2011, would allow the U.S. Justice Department to easily obtain court orders against any website associated with material that infringes upon a copyright, including sites that host links to pirated media.
While major web companies like Google and Wikipedia may have the financial resources to accommodate the current language of the legislation, smaller start-up companies would be severely affected, according to Parker Phinney ’12, co-head of the Hacker Club.
“I think that anyone hoping to be in the web startup world should be very worried about SOPA and PIPA,” Phinney said.
Students who use these websites for both educational and entertainment purposes would therefore feel the effects of SOPA and PIPA.
“Sellers of pirated video could disappear over time, and there’s people in our community using those services,” Eric Johnson, Tuck School of Business professor and director of the Center for Digital Services, said.
In response to mounting public pressure, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the main sponsor of SOPA, removed one of the bill’s most contentious provisions on Jan. 13. The original clause would have blocked offending websites from the Domain Name System, effectively prohibiting access to these sites.
Sergey Bratus, chief security advisor for the College’s Institute for Security, Technology and Society, said the legislation would hamper the growth of the Internet if passed.
“The Internet is about the free flow of information,” Bratus said. “When you place heavy legal requirements on how this information has to be policed or accessed, things do not happen.”
On Wednesday, Wikipedia administrators shut down the website to protest SOPA and PIPA. Google blacked out its search page logo and urged visitors to sign a petition addressed to Congress. Wired Magazine and Firefox protested the bills on their respective homepages. Members of Dartmouth’s Hacker Club also blacked out their website.
The bill has also been met with fierce opposition by a number of other groups, including Yahoo, eBay and Reddit.
“In many ways, Google and Wikipedia’s reaction is really trying to get the public to have a better understanding of what was potentially in store,” Johnson said.
Bratus said he believes that Google’s actions, which will benefit start-up companies more than Google in the long run, mark a positive effort to retain freedom in online media.
“What they’re doing is valuable, not just for them as a prophylactic against future legislation but helping a healthy debate about a critical and important issue in our country, both in terms of copyright protection and free speech,” Johnson said.
The American Library Association, of which the Dartmouth College Library is a member, sent a letter to Senate leadership to oppose SOPA and PIPA, according to library research guide Barbara DeFelice.
“The library community has been monitoring SOPA and PIPA, as these would have adverse effects on those who use and contribute to information resources, such as students and faculty, and on libraries whose mission it is to provide information resources and services in support of teaching, learning and research,” DeFelice wrote in an email to The Dartmouth.
Johnson said he believes that students will still be able to find legitimate materials for research regardless of the eventual language of the bill, as the new provisions are similar to the current laws that apply to domestic websites.
Since the majority of pirated material now originates in foreign countries, which means it falls outside U.S. jurisdiction, SOPA and PIPA would aim to reduce piracy by targeting American websites rather than pirates themselves.
The bills’ strongest backers include the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, two industries that have been hurt by high levels of piracy.
Between 2009 and 2011, the biggest contributor to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of the sponsors of PIPA, was Warner Brothers. Clear Channel Communications, a global media company, was Smith’s top donor, according to the Wired website.
In spite of student fears, Johnson said that students would find a way around new anti-piracy regulations, citing the history of privacy legislation such as the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
“Generally, with those types of technology, there are circumvention techniques that can make it easy,” Phinney said.
However, Bratus said that regardless of the efficiency of new anti-piracy laws, any sort of regulation would have at least some negative effect.
“There will be a shrinking of future possibilities, including those for learning,” he said. “Streaming for learning will have to bear the costs of complying with new laws.”
While PIPA was approved in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or., is currently delaying the vote on the bill, which would be scheduled for debate on the open floor after passing through the committee.
The Judiciary Committee is currently discussing SOPA in the House. Due to recent demonstrations, it is unclear when both bills will be voted on and to what extent the legislation will be changed.