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Anti-piracy Bills put on ice

Internet users can breathe a sigh of relief as US lawmakers put Bills that would effectively shackle online freedom on hold.

The online world can breathe a sigh of relief as the threat of a shackled Internet has been allayed, at least for now.

Following last week's online outcry over a fast-moving initiative to curb online piracy, two controversial US Bills tabled for decision tomorrow, have been put on ice.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate, were immobilised by US lawmakers on Friday “in light of recent events”. If passed, the Bills would have far-reaching consequences for Internet users, effectively endangering their free speech and setting a precedent for online censorship.

Reuters reports that Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said on Friday that the critical vote on the Bills would be postponed. Lamar Smith, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, similarly said his panel would delay any action on the legislation, until such time as a wider agreement on the issue has been established.

The legislation garnered fervent support from entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical firms and other industry groups who say online piracy severely dents their profit margins, to the tune of billions of dollars a year.

Online opposition

The World Wide Web was shrouded in protest last Wednesday as various Internet giants demonstrated overt resistance to legislation that would endanger their existence and the online world as we know it.

Community-edited online encyclopaedia Wikipedia staged a 24-hour blackout that saw support from a host of other Web companies, including Reddit and Mozilla. Other Web giants, such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, stood in solidarity with the protest, but remained up and running.

The unprecedented online event elicited millions of responses, from barbed social media posts, to phone calls to Congress.

The protest, says Reuters, yielded rapid results with several sponsors of the legislation, including senators Roy Blunt, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, John Boozman and Marco Rubio withdrawing their support of SOPA and PIPA.

Powerful voice

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck says the online world can take comfort from the effectiveness of its collective stand. He says that, while the Bills may resurface in a modified form, and the threat has not vanished entirely, it is patently not a one-sided threat.

“It was made clear in this process that the online community has a powerful voice. A few politicians acting on behalf of vested interests attempt to undermine that voice at their peril.”

Goldstuck says Wikipedia's historic stand was probably the tipping point to having the Bills deferred, but it ultimately came as the climax to a steadily building groundswell of online and offline opposition. “Other key moments included Reddit sponsoring fundraising campaigns for opponents of the Bill, as well as opponents merely of the Bill's authors. Their successful campaign against hosting service Godaddy, which initially supported the new laws, also highlighted the economic consequences of supporting such activity.”

These collective occurrences, he says, made it inevitable that the Bills would be withdrawn.

On the upside

Goldstuck says the proposed laws actually had a very positive consequence at the end of the day. “They brought together the proponents of an open Internet and of free speech, which resulted in a large body of thought, debate and philosophy emerging around the nature of freedom of information on the Internet.”

The foundation that was built through last week's culmination of opposition and protest, he says, is a valuable one. “That provides powerful ammunition that can be readily drawn on in the next round of the battle that will inevitably continue. Moreover, it provides resource material for people and organisations fighting similar battles in other countries.

“Finally, it sends a signal to those who would limit access to information: the world of free information is watching you, and that world is not defenceless.”

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