January 18 marks an online holiday: Internet Freedom Day, or #InternetFreedomDay.
In 2012, the day was heralded as a “political coming of age for the tech industry” by the New York Times, following a massive online protest in which Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and numerous other popular websites censored their homepages to successfully protest two bills in the U.S. Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA), both similarly written and designed by legislators to fight online piracy. Popular Web brands and their users had scored an unlikely but unmistakable victory over legislation that critics argued would have effectively handicapped the Internet as we know it.
One year on, Web freedom advocacy groups celebrated that no qualitatively similar legislation has gained traction in Congress, a testament to their hard-fought victory.
“We haven’t heard that there will be new legislation introduced this year,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight For the Future, a nonprofit, grant-funded Web freedom advocacy group that spearheaded the SOPA and PIPA protests.
“The large uproar that happened last year had a lasting impact on Congress and I think they know now to consult the Internet-loving public on any new legislation,” Cheng told TPM in a phone interview.
But the groups that supported such anti-piracy bills — among them the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) — are still seeking other ways of cracking down on what they deem to be infringement of their copyrights on content.
One new method that is already going into effect has been nicknamed “six strikes,” and involves Internet Service Providers sending multiple, escalating warnings to customers who have downloaded content from file-swapping websites, eventually throttling or blocking access to certain websites for those customers. Verizon has already begun sending out such warnings, as Forbes reported.
That’s also why Web freedom advocates took the occasion of the 1-year-anniversary of the SOPA and PIPA protests to remind Web users to take a variety of political actions to support keeping the Web open and free. Below is an overview list, far from comprehensive, of the various ways that the January 18 political awakening of the Web was being celebrated. Check out the “Internet Freedom Day” website set up by Fight For the Future, for even more.
Aaron Swartz Memorials
A previously unseen essay from late Web entrepreneur and activist Aaron Swartz, 26, published by Buzzfeed on Friday, described how he became involved in the fight against SOPA and PIPA.
Swartz took his own life and was found dead in New York on January 11, ahead of an April federal trial on charges of computer and wire fraud for downloading academic articles from the subscription JSTOR database. The tragedy has galvanized friends, supporters and other Web activists who didn’t know the young man into calling for reform of computer fraud law and penalties, as many believe the federal prosecutors were overzealous in their case against Swartz.
Demand Progress, the progressive advocacy group Swartz co-founded, is calling for new legislation, nicknamed “Aaron’s Law,” to stop aggressive prosecution of computer crimes. The proposed legislation would downgrade violations of a website’s “terms of service,” from the list of breaches that can be considered felonious.
Swartz’s essay comes from a collection of essays on the SOPA and PIPA fight, “Hacking Politics: How Geeks, Progressives, The Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed Up To Defeat SOPA And Save The Internet,” due out in March. It’s a “pay what you think it’s worth” deal.
“On Internet Freedom,” an e-book by First Amendment lawyer Marvin Ammori published earlier this week and listed at $4.99, is free for January 18 only, as Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society noted.
“Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive to Access,” a new hardcover and e-book of essays on the reported shift in Congress in granting copyright holders more protections while moving away from “access and freedom,” edited by Jerry Brito of the libertarian Mercatus Center at George Mason University, is also available as a free download for January 18 only.
CNET published an article rounding up statements from prominent advocates and politicians involved in the fight on where they see the landscape on intellectual property, copyright and piracy going forward in 2013 and beyond.
Over at Boston Review, writer Edward Lee focuses on Wikipedia’s participation in the 2012 blackout day specifically, using it as a jumping-off point for a wider look at IP policy and advocacy around the globe.
Advocacy Group Statements
The “Internet Association,” a lobbying group that launched in September 2012 with the backing of Web giants and sometime rivals Google, Amazon, Yahoo and Facebook, among others, released the following statement:
“Today marks the one year anniversary of the online community’s grassroots movement that blocked a Congressional attempt to censor the Internet. SOPA and PIPA’s defeat demonstrated the Internet’s ability to give every user and every constituent a voice in the political process. The Internet is a revolutionary tool for innovation, job-creation, and democratic discourse. Censoring or regulating the Internet would have a devastating impact on countless families, small businesses, and entrepreneurs worldwide. The Internet Association looks forward to working with policy makers, innovators, and all Internet users to ensure that future proposals affecting the Internet do not harm the Internet’s central role in our lives.”
Fight For the Future, one of the advocacy groups that led the charge against SOPA and PIPA (and raked in donations afterwards), sent an email to supporters encouraging them to “share stuff on the web that shouldn’t or can’t ever be censored,” such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal “I Had a Dream” speech, online videos of which are repeatedly taken down by copyright infringement claims from EMI, which represents his estate.
However, a video copy of the speech that Fight For the Future posted on Vimeo on Friday and encouraged users to share and repost online had already been taken offline at the time of this article’s publication due to infringement claims.
Cheng told TPM that Fight For the Future was surprised by the takedown but was already working on getting another version of the video up on another hosting website.