For those of you who have been waiting for my reaction (and I have a lot!) to the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria and the #Occupy Nigeria protests (sorry, if you are trying to access that wikipedia link on 18 July 2012, it is blacked out), I am hoping to post something by the end of today/early morning tomorrow. But for now, I am writing a quick post about another protest, related to the blacking out of the wikipedia article I posted.
If you are accessing this blog between 18-24 January 2012, you may notice the black ribbon that says “Stop Censorship” across the top right hand corner of the page. I am participating in a general wordpress “strike”, which is joining many other internet sites in a strike, to protest the SOPA/PIPA bills currently before the U.S. Congress.
According to CBS:
There are already laws that protect copyrighted material, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But while the DMCA focuses on removing specific, unauthorized content from the Internet, SOPA and PIPA instead target the platform — that is, the site hosting the unauthorized content.
The bills would give the Justice Department the power to go after foreign websites willfully committing or facilitating intellectual property theft — “rogue” sites like The Pirate Bay. The government would be able to force U.S.-based companies, like Internet service providers, credit card companies and online advertisers, to cut off ties with those sites.
College Candy adds that
The proposed SOPA bill would allow copyright holders and the Department of Justice to file a court order against websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. Now, that’s a broad statement. Basically, “the court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.” This could potentially shut down sites like Tumblr, Flickr, and more. We certainly don’t want people pirating, but this bill will seriously cripple the internet and our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
PIPA will also be just as damaging. It could lead to the removal of online resources and YouTubebecause any type of file sharing could be prohibited by the law. The main goal of PIPA is pretty much to protect Hollywood and the music industry. People download music, movies, and TV shows for free and “The Man” is getting angry. Most of the sites are from outside the United States, so this bill would block IP addresses from accessing those sites and allow courts to sue search engines for presenting links to those sites. Google is opposed. The bill is so vague that you could ultimately get sued for posting a video to YouTube with a song in the background. It will destroy the internet the way we use it and make it less secure in the process.
Although the Motion Pictures Practitioners Association of America and other content providers are understandably concerned about online piracy and are pushing the bills, such an act risks suppressing creative new forms of distribution and expression.
In one of the better explanations of how these bills could affect the ordinary internet user, 1stwebdesigner.com argues that
These acts are stopping developers from coming up with the next big thing in the online market that could change how we use the internet. Let’s say that these acts were around back when the internet was started, how many of the most popular sites would still have come into fruition. There would be no Facebook, YouTube, MediaFire, SoundCloud, Twitter, DropBox, or any other site that can be targeted as a place where online piracy could take place. Is it even possible to think about what the internet would be like without sites like this?
As a blogger on multiple sites including this personal blog and a blog for the Hausa Home Video Resource Centre, Flickr where I upload my own photos, and Youtube which I use for research and also upload trailers and excerpts of Hausa films that help give them publicity, I am personally concerned about how this would affect my own usage, but as a “Nollywood” scholar I am also concerned about the repercussions this could have 1) on innovative development and distribution of creative content outside of the U.S, and 2) access to content for scholars and other non-commercial users. In his chapter “Degraded Images, Distorted Sounds: Nigerian video and the Infrastructure of Piracy” in Signal and Noise, Brian Larkin has pointed out that the reason the Nigerian film industry was able to spread and become popular so rapidly was that piracy networks were able to spread the films into areas legal distributers had no acess to. When I interviewed Brooklyn-based legal distributor Sal Jide Thomas, he affirmed that many of the legal distributers of Nollywood in the U.S. were once pirates, saying that though he was never a pirate, Nollywood is
lucky that they have a market that they didn’t create. Their product created it. So we can’t complain too much about bootlegging in the US anyway. As I tell my fellow marketers, they are responsible for the market that we have. What we can do is actually find a way of incorporating it, because first of all, they have the distribution channel. They still have more people than we do. So, if we can work with them, it’s a win-win situation. The reason that there are bootleggers is if you haven’t done your distribution properly. In the U.S., I don’t think we have a bootleg problem. We have a supply problem.
It may be that harnessing piracy websites for legal distribution is the best way to go, rather than trying to suppress them. The Nollywoodlove site for example is bringing in legitimate funds for filmmakers through youtube advertising, while viewers watch for free–a business model the founder of the brilliant Hausafilms.tv site Mahmud Fagge is trying, with the consent of some Hausa filmmakers, to reproduce for Hausa films on his youtube channel. While concerns over piracy are legitimate, it would be much better to encourage these sorts of creative approaches than in trying to suppress them. And, come on, seriously, computer programmers/hackers/pirates are much more versatile and fast-moving than government or laws can be, as can be seen in the hacking of the Nigerian Ministry of Transportation Site by “hactivists” on January 6. As of today, January 18, the site was still down, though the hackers message had been removed. The point is that internet technology must be harnessed for legal distribution and pirates must be fought (or attracted to the “light side”) on an individual basis. Banning sites is not going to help anyone.
If you would like to add your own website to the strike, find out more about it here and here. As my blog content and so many of my readers are based outside of the U.S., I decided not to participate in the general black-out of my content, but I do urge my readers to click on the black ribbon and sign the petition to protest the bill. In addition to the petition U.S. citizens can sign to go to their elected representatives, there is also a petition for non-U.S. citizens to join the protest. This U.S. initiative could have global repercussions on how we all experience the internet.
(And for other news on outrageous American censorship, check out this insane ban by the Tucson Unified School District in Arizona State on “Mexican-American” studies. Among the books removed are Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Opressed and William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest!)