It seems as though almost every generation has a moment that signifies a paradigm shift in cultural views or practices.
It also seems that it is very hard to comment on the importance of these events at the time they take place, rather it is much easier to truly appreciate them through the benefit of hindsight.
But for what it is worth, the online protests of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), seem to show an evolution in how the opinions of citizens are to be heard.
For those uninitiated: Both SOPA and PIPA were written as well-intentioned means to end online piracy of copyrighted material, especially piracy dealing with foreign sources. However, the language in the bills was worded in such a fashion as to allow for the expansion of criminal laws to include the streaming of copyrighted material.
In effect, this means that if one were to upload a clip of some sort of popular media on YouTube for a school project without full approval of the people that own that media, that person could face a penalty of up to five years in prison.
Since the PIPA bill’s proposal in May of 2011, online discussion had been steadily growing concerning the merits, unintended consequences, and methods to disapprove of the bills. This eventually culminated in the online protests and “blackouts” of several sites on Jan. 18.
It is important to note that even though the protests had the backing of web-based entities like Google, Wikipedia, and Mozilla (makers of Firefox), the bills were still set up for a quick approval by both the House and the Senate less than a few months ago, and no opposition seemed like it was going to change that fact.
This makes it all the more surprising that the protest might have actually accomplished its goal. Both SOPA and PIPA have recently been postponed indefinitely to reconsider the issues raised by opponents.
What is interesting to note about the protests is that they took place almost entirely online. Yes, sites like Google have made their presence known through physical representatives, but discussion and solutions were proposed through a massive online effort from people who might as well live worlds apart.
We saw the beginnings of this online protest during the Iranian presidential election in 2009, when droves of Iranian citizens made their voices heard through online sources like Twitter.
The protest of SOPA and PIPA are not necessarily important because of what issues it is resolving, but how they are resolving them. Mass-communication between people through such an expansive medium is an exciting prospect, and to live during its beginning stages means having to have an open mind about what can be accomplished – for better or worse.