• Throughout the World

From the Internet's creation in the late 1950's to the beginning of widespread public use in the early 1990's, the Internet went widely unregulated. Cyberspace, another word of the Internet, was generally thought of as a separate entity than the real world. Only once the Internet was widely available to the public, did the government begin to notice.

Many countries have their own Internet censorship laws for their own reasons. For example Saudi Arabia, which is theocratic based on Islam, censors web pages with pornographic material, alcohol, illegal drugs, and information on some Islamic sects. Egypt has used the Internet and cell phone service providers to try and combat terrorism, but became controversial after they shut down the Internet and cell towers completely for five days.

China's Internet regulations went under harsh criticism during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. China blocks pages that denounce their government. An Internet user in China is not informed that they are being censored. When a user in China tries to access a webpage they are prevented from reaching it. The user's Internet connections are reset, or their e-mail messages are never sent. The criticisms made by the United States' towards other nations' restrictions bring up complaints about the US's own forms of censorship and surveillance.

  • How It's Blocked

There are several ways that the Internet can be censored, most of which are by regulating the Internet Service Providers (ISP). For example controversial material like pornography or potentially copyrighted works could be filtered and tracked by ISP's or "channeled" separately than safe Internet sites. The United States has also drafted laws like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to combat copyright infringement. ACTA was quietly drafted by the United States for four years in coalition with thirty-four other nations, and sought to require Internet Services, Service Providers, and other intermediaries to block users who violate copyright laws and fine or imprison them accordingly. ACTA was eventually revealed on WikiLeaks and fought by Anonymous. While censorship does not exist until after a user is caught stealing, many more innocent forms of infringement is made illegal and equally punishable. The US has also created SOPA and PIPA, which also limit activity on the Internet. Most Internet companies disagree with these vaguely worded and secretive copyright protection laws.

Stop Online Piracy Act Protect Internet Protocol Act

Lamar Smith showed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. SOPA allows the US attorney general to receive court orders that require ISPs, search engines, web hosts, and other Internet affiliated services to block websites assumed to infringe on copyrights. It also allows third party payment processers, like credit card companies, to cut off websites they work with if they can provide evidence of copyright violation. It also allows private companies, like film companies or publishers, to make lists of websites they think are in violation of their copyright policies, that ISPs would have to block.

Patrick Leahy introduced the Protect IP Act (PIPA) to the Senate on May 12, 2011. PIPA seeks to defend copyrights by requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to websites that infringe on copyright laws. In addition to ISPs, search engines and other web service may be required to filter their results and users. Under PIPA, copyright holders can sue the domain operators if a site is found to have illegal material. According to Leahy: "The PROTECT IP Act provides new tools for law enforcement to combat rogue websites that operate outside our borders but target American consumers with stolen American property and counterfeits."

  • How Our Elected Officials Decided

Supporters of SOPA and PIPA are on the side of Hollywood and other producers claiming that these acts protect jobs. Congressman Lamar Smith writes that, "American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. [Piracy] costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs". Smith released his statement on January 20th following criticism of SOPA and PIPA on Internet Freedom Day (also called Internet Blackout Day), January 18th. Because of mass disapproval he closed his statement with, "The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution". SOPA and PIPA were eventually to be shelved and have not passed either house.

The music and film industries both have pushed for legislation on SOPA and PIPA. These bills receive support from the film and music industry because they protect their products from theft. Yet both bills open the door for other forms of Internet censorship because they are loosely worded. In theory, the bill only fights foreign websites stealing American goods, however, as one of Reddit's founders writes: "the language is so loose and ignorant of what is truly a foreign site that there is a huge amount of room to argue what is actually 'foreign'". By loosely defining what websites can be censored, there is a risk of government censoring websites for political control, like China.

After the January 18, 2012 Internet Blackout Day with many major websites participating, support for both SOPA and PIPA fell. Both parties had supporters and opposition to the bill, but the opposition heavily outweighed the support. One opposition member, Rand Paul pledges that he will, "oppose, filibuster and do everything in my power to stop government censorship of the Internet". Paul did not have to filibuster because SOPA and PIPA did not pass.

  • Presidential Action

Neither bill reached the White House, so neither were vetoed or signed into law. However the White House did release a statement regarding the two laws. They agreed with the intent of SOPA and PIPA stating: "we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response." However the President opposes the acts because he will not support legislation that changes the way the global Internet works. Motion Picture of America met the statement with concurrence. Unofficially however, the media industry was disappointed that Obama spoke out about the legislation, especially after their donations to his campaigns.

The President did however sign ACTA, an international agreement that is similar to and even expands on SOPA and PIPA. The international agreement was signed by the United States and several other United Nation countries on October 1st. The signing was met with criticism after the White House's previous statements on SOPA and PIPA especially since ACTA is an international treaty and outplays domestic laws that would undo ACTA. The president claims to have only signed the document as an 'executive agreement' which does not require congressional approval. However it has been argued that ACTA constitutes a treaty, which would require congressional action in order to be approved.

  • The Opinion of the Supreme Court

Because no legislation on SOPA and PIPA was passed there have been no cases challenging their practice. The constitutionality of Obama signing ACTA without Congressional approval has been questioned publicly but has not been challenged in court. However there have been many cases regarding people who have released classified government documents on the Internet, particularly WikiLeaks.

One of the most noteworthy cases is US v Manning, wherein a US soldier released over 700,000 classified documents via WikiLeaks. While prosecutors asked for him to be sentenced to sixty years in prison Judge Colonel Denise Lind only gave Manning a thirty-five year sentence which, under military parole rules, means he could be out of jail in as soon as seven years. While the severity of his punishment was significantly less than what was originally planned, the guilty verdict on Manning's case speaks volumes towards the United States government's opinion on freedom of speech, particularly that against the government. WikiLeaks is not currently blocked in the United States and Manning's documents are accessible, but the court case ruled that releasing them was illegal. The mixed messages toward freedom of speech on the Internet reveal that there are documents that the government would like to have removed from the Internet or not posted in the first place and discourages other whistleblowers and leakers from posting their content on websites such as WikiLeaks.

Courts have seen laws like SOPA and PIPA that do not clearly define what content is censorable. In Reno v. ACLU, 1996 Communications Decency Act, which was intended to filter and criminalize sending "unsuitable internet material" from minors, was brought into question. The debate was over whether the vagueness of the 1996 Communications Decency Act violated the First and Fifth Amendments and block legal forms of Internet communication. Nine Justices favored the ACLU, and determined that the Act did indeed violate the First Amendment. Because the act did not define indecency clearly it had the power to censor content that would otherwise be considered decent. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), continues to push for net neutrality stating that, "the government has no right to censor protected speech on the Internet, and it cannot reduce adults to hearing and seeing only speech that the government considers suitable for children" (ACLU).



When it comes to regulating shareable content, the winners are the large companies that produce music and movies, like Hollywood producers and record lables. SOPA, ACTA, and PIPA, all have to goal of helping artists and creators of original content. It also protects universities and online encyclopedias. Any web content that is supposed to be paid for can be leaked, so these laws are designed to watch thier backs.


It is very easy for an average Internet user to become a criminal under SOPA, ACTA, and PIPA's legislation. Sharing any copyrighted music or photos via email, YouTube, Facebook, and even chat clients is illegal. In addition to the risk of sharing copyrighted data, in order to enforce these law, the government has to put in the infrastrucure and task force to regulate the laws. This means a significant increase in surveillance and government spending to protect large cooperations.

  • We The People

Internet Blackout day was January 18th, 2012 and many popular websites like Google, Reddit, and Wikipedia participated in shutdowns and blackouts. The mass demonstration raised public awareness about SOPA and PIPA, two proposed bills that at the time were in either house of Congress. At the time most American citizens were unaware, but after Internet Blackout day many citizens began to form opinions about both laws. In a tweet Google declared that had collected over 7 million unique signatures against the laws and recieved over 10 million hits on its page against the laws. Wikipedia reported that it had 162 million people logged in attempting to view the blacked out English pages. These viewers then went on to government websites to contact their Congressmen to protest the bills. Wikimedia Foundation's Executive Director Sue Gardner released a statement thanking thier viewers with: "You shut down the Congressional switchboards, and you melted their servers." The demonstration was effective in making nineteen undecided senators oppose the bills and SOPA's co-sponsor Ben Quayle remove his name from the bill.