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Online reaction to anti-piracy bills shows internet’s political influence

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) encountered major opposition this past Wednesday in the form of massive internet protests.

Thousands of websites responded to the proposed legislation that could grant Congress power to censor sites for hosting or linking to sites that host unlawfully uploaded copyrighted material. While the internet has always been home to activism, the scope of these protests goes far beyond other internet movements.

Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress, and other websites ceased access to their normal sites, instead displaying pages that warned users of the effects that SOPA and PIPA could have on the state of the internet. The measures taken by these websites to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation are a landmark for internet-based political activism.

Awareness of SOPA and PIPA increased dramatically in a very short time period due to these protests. The amount of participation was incredible, with 7 million users utilizing Google’s forms to petition Congress. But the effect that the protests had outside of the internet is what is truly remarkable. According to propublica.org, the number of opponents of SOPA and PIPA in Congress nearly tripled Wednesday to total 101. Meanwhile, SOPA and PIPA lost 15 of their supporters in Congress over the same time period.

The protests were successful, with representatives in the Senate and House stating on Friday that they will postpone SOPA and PIPA legislation. Yet the effect of these protests will go well beyond their purpose. This activism serves as a reminder of the power of the internet, but more importantly as a reminder of the power of people.

Censorship legislation as extreme as SOPA and PIPA would inhibit the same kind of creativity and collaborative force that allowed for these protests to happen.

Inhibiting access to information would make such efforts for positive change impossible. Censorship legislation like SOPA and PIPA threaten people’s ability to use the internet to its full potential.

Last year was marked by numerous protests and movements across the world, and these blackouts continue the tradition into 2012.

The use of the internet as a tool for positive change, on such a large scope, should be an inspiration for future activism.