[Reposted IIT Chicago-Kent NewsBrief]
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the controversial copyright bill that would have authorized the U.S. attorney general to obtain a court order to block Internet access to foreign websites accused of criminal piracy or counterfeiting, sparked the largest online protest ever.
According to IIT Chicago-Kent Professor Edward Lee, author of The Fight for the Future: How People Defeated Hollywood and Saved the Internet—For Now, the January 18, 2012, Internet blackout was the shot heard ’round the cyber world. “On that date, more than 115,000 websites, including Wikipedia, Google and Twitter, went ‘black’ in a day of self-censorship,” says Professor Lee, director of IIT Chicago-Kent’s Program in Intellectual Property Law. “It is an incredible example of democracy in action, of civic engagement. The people—not the lawyers, lobbyists, government officials or courts—were at the forefront of the fight to save the Internet.”
In addition to the blackout, 8 million Americans looked up contact information for their representatives in Congress, 10 million signed petitions sent to Congress, 3 million emails were sent, and 100,000 phone calls were received.
Professor Lee likens the organization of the anti-SOPA protests, which was conducted primarily on the Internet, to the decentralized network established by Paul Revere and early American patriots to sound the alarm about the British more than 200 years ago. “Now, as then, ‘we, the people’ can make a difference,” he says.
“The grassroots efforts by millions of people in the name of a ‘free and open Internet’ prevailed over the special interests and copyright industries that supported SOPA, but the battle is ongoing,” cautions Professor Lee. “Why do you think the FCC just received over 3 million comments on its controversial net neutrality proposal? That’s the most in FCC history.”
Professor Lee has founded The Free Internet Project (TFIP), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide the public with information about the latest legal and technological efforts to protect Internet freedoms around the world. TFIP is the first nonprofit based in Chicago that is devoted to protecting Internet freedoms.
The Free Internet Project is based on the belief that the Internet is an amazing tool for sharing knowledge, and that people around the world can learn from and share in the efforts to protect Internet freedoms in other countries. TFIP provides a user-friendly resource for the public to follow, and through which they can comment on, the latest bills, decisions, constitutional amendments, and technologies to protect the “free and open Internet.”
“Protecting Internet freedom is the next civil rights movement of the 21st century,” says Professor Lee. “It’s happening in countries around the world, not just the United States. It’s our generation’s moment in history, how we will be later judged by future generations.
“Every day, there are challenges and threats. The Free Internet Project hopes to make a small contribution to this movement to protect Internet freedoms by providing a common resource for people to track the legal and technological efforts people are undertaking to protect their freedoms.”