The Internets are back!

If you used a web browser yesterday you probably noticed that things were a little wonky. Wikipedia blacked out its entire English site in protest of two bills (known as SOPA and PIPA) under consideration in Congress. Reddit and BoingBoing followed suit, and Google blacked out its logo and posted a link to an infographic explaining the harm SOPA and PIPA could do. Facebook remained online with no apparent sign of protest, yet its users certainly took notice: reactions ranged from annoyance to vocal support.

The SOPA and PIPA acronyms stand for "Stop Online Piracy Act" and "PROTECT Intellectual Property Act" (with PROTECT a nifty little acronym for "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft"). These sound fairly innocuous, I suppose, but Wikipedia and other opponents of the bills fear that their passage would fundamentally damage the structure of the Internet. So we had what we had yesterday: an unprecedented blackout/protest coordination among major Internet sites.

The sites' strategy seems to have worked, at least in the short term. By the end of the day yesterday, support for the bill in Congress had weakened. And today, though all is back to normal, people are still talking about these bills: by my informal tally, approximately 150 articles about SOPA/PIPA have been published in the past 3 hours. If Wikipedia and friends wanted to make waves, they appear to have succeeded, but are well aware of the well-connected opponents they face.

More about this:
"PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet" (a video on Vimeo, by Fight for the Future)
"Put down the pitch forks on SOPA" by David Pogue (New York Times)

(This post was aided by research by Dominika Gergely '13.)


Public Domain FAIL

What is entering the public domain in the United States? Nothing. Once again, we will have nothing to celebrate this January 1st. Not a single published work is entering the public domain this year. Or next year, or the year after that. In fact, in the United States, no publication will enter the public domain until 2019.

Sad but true. The standard copyright term - how long someone owns the rights to their creative work - was extended in the 1990s to 70 years after the death of the author (the "life plus seventy" rule) or 95 years after first publication (if the work is owned by a corporation). As the Center for the Study of the Public Domain (at Duke University) notes, if you live in Europe, you'd now be free to remix and reuse (without permission) works by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Which would be pretty cool. But wouldn't it be amazing if we could freely re-mix and re-use footage from Rebel Without a Cause, Ansel Adams' Half Dome Blowing Snow (below), and Nabokov's Lolita? If those copyright laws in 1990s hadn't been passed, those and many other works from 1955 would have entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2012.

Check out the links below for more information.