The Arabist will be going dark on January 18 (Egypt time) to protest the SOPA and PIPA, two bills promoted by the American entertainment and publishing industries currently making their way through Congress. The bills are so bad that even the White House opposes them. Some major sites, including Wikipedia, Reddit, Boingboing and others will be goinb black on this day, but there’s a special reason for us to join in: in a SOPA world, the Arab Spring’s inventive use of the internet would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.
The problem with SOPA and PIPA is that they break the internet. They add all sorts of liability problems when a site links to another: we have to be sure that this site has the right to display the media it contains. They would give power to companies to decide to block sites they feel infringe of copyright laws. They would stop the wonderful culture of remixing cultural production to give it a new message, a subsersive act widely used throughout the Arab Spring and before. Check out the video below that explains much more.
In addition to this, I think this industry cannot be trusted to censor the internet (no one can be trusted to do that) but also that it does not deserve to be. This is the same industry that lets you buy digital books on one device but won’t let you read them on another. Or that would not let you play a US DVD on a European DVD player. It’s out to maximize profits by setting up new legal liabilities (an already mounting problem in all walks of life in the US) to use and abuse in the future. All of this will make it considerably more difficult for labors of love like this website to continue.
Update: For example, this is the kind of thing people might not be able to make — or that could get Vimeo censored — if the bills get through: