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The Debate About Online Piracy

This week, Features writer Trisha Chowdhury talks about the recent closures of MegaUpload and TV Shack and discusses the infamous SOPA and PIPA.

Online piracy is a topic of intense debate. The Internet is a huge and powerful network that affects the lives of millions of people. It allows the exchange of knowledge and ideas in a unique way, where people from across the globe can communicate and participate. However, this exchange affects the revenues of big corporations. The biggest weapon that they have is Copyright law, which severely handicaps this process of exchange and terms it as ‘piracy’.

No one seemed to be noticing that the United States was making piracy laws stricter. But when there was a victim closer to home everything came under the spotlight. The first scapegoat, to be made an example of, was a Computing student of Sheffield Hallam University, Richard O’Dwyer. He was the owner of TVShack, a website which redirects the user to other websites, that host the pirated versions of TV shows and films. O’Dwyer set up the website when he was 19 in order to help him with his education and si now aged 23. Now he is facing extradition to the US and if found guilty, he could face a jail term of 10 years. All this took place with little regard to the fact that TVShack’s servers were located in the Netherlands and had no direct link to the US.
Well, how about this then: a Dutch citizen in New Zealand was also arrested over copyright infringement, by the US. Sounds unreal? Well, this is the story of Kim Schmitz or rather Kim Dotcom, the founder of the very popular website MegaUpload.com. MegaUpload was a website that enabled the storing and sharing of large files over the Internet. Claims are that it also enabled many users to share pirated material, thus contributing to online piracy. The website also allowed the downloading of movies, TV shows and music, to its premium customers. Kim Dotcom was subsequently arrested and the website was shut.
The hacker group, Anonymous, was closely following the US’s actions pertaining to online piracy. On the news of the shutdown of MegaUpload.com, they showed their annoyance by launching a series of cyber-attacks. The victims of these attacks were the websites of the American Department of Justice, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and Universal Music. These websites were made temporarily unavailable to get to the notice of the authorities the discontent of the masses.

The protest also included some big websites blacking out on the18th of January. One major participant was Wikipedia, which blacked out its page, in the English language, on that day. The message that they wanted to spread was to “imagine a world without free knowledge”. The main protest was not just regarding the actions against online piracy but against the House of Representatives bill ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ – better known as SOPA – and its Senate equivalent, the ‘Protect Intellectual Property Act’ or PIPA, which gives reasons for the new and vigorous actions against online piracy.
Most Silicon Valley corporations are against these acts. For instance, Google mentioned on their website “please don’t censor the web!” However, there are a fair number of people, who are in absolute favour of it, particularly corporations from the entertainment industry. The White House has taken a stance and issued a statement that it would not be in favour of the extreme aspects of the bills. Rupert Murdoch, in response tweeted: “Don’t care about people not buying movies, programs or newspapers, just stealing them.” This makes the power struggle of Silicon Valley vs. Hollywood very evident and there is a clear winner under the present circumstances.

There has been tremendous protest by the masses against the SOPA and PIPA. Facebook and Twitter are buzzing with people showing their disapproval of the bills. If these bills are passed, the internet will never remain the way we know it today. It would significantly affect the way business is carried out. Most important of all is that there will be a restriction on people to communicate their thoughts and ideas, so that big businesses can generate income and their revenues remain intact. In general there will always be a fear among the masses as to which of their actions on the internet would be termed as illegal.
What is termed as ‘piracy’ has generally been opposed by the common man. Many believe that piracy is a rather harsh term for people sharing ideas. Piracy equates to theft, but many believe that concepts and ideas cannot be termed as one’s own and encashed economically by organisations. Thus, when the Copyright law was first introduced, people had launched an opposing movement called ‘Copyleft’, challenging that the Copyright takes away a basic right to exchange thoughts and ideas which belong to everybody.

The scariest part here is that many people indulge in an act of piracy in their life. This is true especially with students. While some do it deliberately, the others are unaware of the consequences of their act. Thus, enforcement of such acts would probably hit the student population the hardest.
Music is the most downloaded item from the internet. Many believe that purchasing a whole album for a song you like does not seem to make any sense. It would be too expensive to start purchasing every song you like. Many people also share songs with friends, which would be considered an illegal activity. Most students would not have a television in their residential premises.
With MegaUpload.com shut, many people have already started facing the heat of the anti-piracy actions of the US. Little can be predicted on what course the events will take eventually. People are still with the hope that the internet doesn’t change from how we know it today.

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