SOPA and PIPA: Why anti-Internet piracy bills matter to the black community

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are two controversial pieces of legislation pending in the House and Senate respectively. Today, 10,000 sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit are “going dark” or otherwise altering their homepages in protest of these bills. Opponents of PIPA and SOPA strongly believe that, if passed into law, this legislation will stifle Internet innovation, harm technology companies that create jobs, and put undue powers of surveillance into the hands of the federal government.

In particular, SOPA and PIPA would empower government agencies to:

1. Block web access to sites both inside and outside of the United States, based on a single copyright infringement claim.
2. Damage existing Internet security in the process of giving the government greater power to monitor web content (unless the Senate makes changes under consideration in its bill).
3. Allow federal agents to block a web site’s traffic, ad revenue, and search traffic if it is accused of enabling copyright infringement.
4. Require content platforms such as Facebook and Amazon.com to monitor the content produced by users for copyright violations.

SOPA and PIPA would empower companies to have web sites shut down without proving copyright infringement accusations in a court of law, and also lay a large burden on the tech sector to police content.

According to the The Wall Street Journal, “The Motion Picture Association of America, the legislation’s main backer, estimates 13 percent of American adults have watched illegal copies of movies or TV shows online, and it says the practice has cost media companies billions of dollars.” Supporters of SOPA and PIPA, including Comcast and Microsoft, say these bills are intended to protect intellectual property rights, and by extension corporations that generate jobs. Comcast is the parent company of NBC Universal, which owns theGrio.

In 2010, African-American adults spent an average of 4 hours and 21 minutes a day online, which is 10 percent more than the national average for all adults. In addition, many of the most popular black sites online, such as the video site World Star Hip Hop and the gossip mecca Bossip, rely heavily on the posting of copyrighted material for their viability.

Thus, SOPA and PIPA are bills that could heavily impact the freedom of access that blacks enjoy and the bottom lines of prominent African-American businesses in the tech sector. Indeed, in an unprecedented government intervention, in late 2010:

Homeland Security along with ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement), the Department of Justice and the National Intellectual Property Rights Co-ordinating Center seized over 80 websites, including popular Hip Hop websites RapGodfathers.com, dajaz1.com and Onsmash.com

Though the site operators contended at the time that most of the file sharing that took place was voluntary, these urban content sites were taken down due to accusations of copyright infringement. Artists supplied content to the sites for promotional purposes, or labels intentionally “leaked” music to these entities in order to promote their products, these outlets asserted.

Those who oppose SOPA and PIPA insist that the perils of piracy are not being debated through their protests. Firms fighting this legislation assert that there are better ways to fight online piracy while also protecting the freedom of access and innovation that have enabled the Internet to drive our economy.

According to political site Talking Points Memo, PIPA is scheduled to be voted on on January 24, and SOPA will “resume a contentious markup hearing” in February.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb