It’s not easy to mobilize the youth, but the sweeping changes proposed by the recent Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act bills did just that last week. The bills received widespread attention from the outset, owing to the broad regulations they would impose on Internet users if passed. However, it wasn’t until the legislation incited protests from Wikipedia, Google and other major websites that students finally took note of the bills’ implications. It’s unfortunate, however, that only threatening pirated online content rallied young people. Youth activism and involvement must affect all aspects of politics, and the Internet has proven its ability to sustain it.
PIPA was introduced in the U.S. Senate on May 12 and SOPA was introduced in the U.S. House on Oct. 26. Though the bills’ proponents claim that their passage is necessary to protect content providers from copyright infringement, many others see the potential for undue damage. Congressmen, academics and analysts who oppose the bills often cite their “domain-blocking” provisions as the most damaging parts of the bills. Under these provisions, the government could block an entire domain name for copyright infringement committed by a single user. In other words, if a YouTube user uploaded a copyrighted video to the site, SOPA and PIPA would allow the government to block and fine the entire YouTube domain for a single user’s actions.
Students were relatively quiet about the legislation at first, but tensions reached a fever pitch when Wikipedia initiated a SOPA/PIPA “blackout” last Wednesday for 24 hours to simulate the legislation’s possible consequences. Tweets mentioning SOPA spiked sharply during the blackout — from 5,000 tweets per hour to an eventual peak at 267,000 tweets per hour in the early evening.
Though the sudden rush of support was encouraging, it also revealed the younger demographic’s overall lack of motivation. Nearly half of Twitter users are between ages 18 and 34. The legislation has been available for review for months, so it stands to reason that it shouldn’t take a show of force like the Wikipedia blackout to get students’ attention.
The attention had serious implications. Both bills are now on hold and appear to have been stopped. While the topic is sure to be broached again, hopefully the Internet outcry will lead to industry input to find a reasonable solution to piracy.
There’s no doubt that content creators and providers deserve some sort of legal protection against creative theft. Unfortunately, SOPA and PIPA protect content providers at the expense of domain holders and consumers by holding the whole online community responsible for the crimes of a few rogue web-users.
Since young people represent a huge portion of the web community, it’s their responsibility to take charge of and protect what’s important to them. The recent controversy made it clear that the influence of students nation-wide is strong and resonant. But activism can’t stop after this would-be victory. In 2008, students came out in record numbers to make their vision of the country relevant in electing President Barack Obama. Four years later, the 2008 trend must be repeated.