While we all know that protecting the copyright and intellectual property rights of creators is an essential part of creative freedom, two proposed Bills in the US (the Stop Online Privacy Act ‘SOPA’ and the Protect Intellectual Privacy Act ‘PIPA’) caused a stir due to strong concerns that the Bills had the potential to stifle free speech online. The ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous is demonstrably anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA, as they viewed these Bills as violations of the US constituted freedom of speech and a direct attempt by the US Government to censor the internet.

In the hour after the arrest of internet pirate Kim Dotcom (previously discussed in this blog) and the closure of the Megaupload site, Anonymous launched a ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ (DDoS) assault against prominent US websites belonging to the US Department of Justice, Recording Industry of America, Motion Picture Association of America, Universal Music, the US Copyright Office and the FBI. In opposition to SOPA and PIPA, Wikipedia blacked out its free (English speaking) online encyclopaedia for 24 hours on 18 January this year, stating in their Public Statement: ‘It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.’

While you may not agree with the tactics of havoc implemented by Anonymous, as opposed to Wiki’s method of self-closure, Anonymous’ intention and desire to bring the public’s attention to these important freedom of information and freedom of speech issues may be described by some as admirable. Anonymous who, in the past, have justified their hacking by saying they did it ‘for the lulz’ (i.e. for a joke) took a far more serious stance during the strategic attack after the arrest of Dotcom.

Their statement included a comprehensive list of demands, one of which was: ‘No more Megauploads. Any penalties must be narrowly focused, with remedies specifically tailored to individual instances of infringement. Broad reaching site shutdowns harm innocent legitimate users and break the web’. Their statement also outlined their general position: ‘We believe a healthy society doesn’t allow its artists, musicians and other creators to starve.’

The copyright industry has been justly criticized for abusing the political process in a desperate attempt to maintain its role as a cultural gatekeeper, a business model made obsolete by a digital age of free copies. But the RIAA, MPAA & IFPI deserve our opprobrium for making enormous profits while often leaving the very artists it claims to represent *poorer* than they would be as independents. While the public may have greater access to the few artists deemed sufficiently marketable to gain mass media promotion, fewer and fewer of us are making art and music in our own lives.’

Google stated that while it agrees with Congress’ desire to stop internet pirates and counterfeiters, it stated that ‘SOPA and PIPA are the wrong way to do it’ and that the proposed Bills ‘pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation.’

Whether or not you agree with the methods of Anonymous, you can’t deny that they are an internet force to be reckoned with. Their cowboy DDoS tactics demonstrate a great ability to bring heavily guarded sites to their knees, if only for a few minutes. The actions of Anonymous, Google and Wikipedia demonstrated a strong opposition to the proposed Bills, bringing these Bills to the ground as they were ultimately shelved by the US Congress – for the time being.

(The assistance of Alexandra Nash in authoring this blog is acknowledged).

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice on their own particular circumstances. Alan Arnott is a technology & telecommunications lawyer with qualifications in computer science and law with Arnotts Lawyers Jones Bay Wharf in Sydney. For more information, please visit www.arnotts.net.au.

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