Say nopa to SOPA! Now what?

Yesterday's Internet silence grabbed headlines, but real progress won't be made against online piracy unless we follow the money

Where were you when the Internet's lights went out?

Me, I discovered how often I use Wikipedia when researching stories -- which is to say, too often. So the inability to reach the world's largest encyclopedia yesterday was a bit annoying until I found a workaround. (Use Google's cached copy of each page -- shhh, don't tell anyone.)

[ Check out Cringely's take on the anti-SOPA protest in "This Internet blackout has been brought to you by the U.S. Congress." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

Still, I appreciate Wikipedia's contribution to the Stop SOPA soap opera, because it was the key to yesterday's symbolic Web blackout.

All a protest like yesterday's blackout can do is shine a light on a particular problem. After Jimmy Wales's crew signed on, that light turned from a tiny spark into a flood lamp. Everybody with an Internet connection and/or school-age child knows what Wikipedia is. Google felt compelled to follow suit in a nominal way, by blocking its logo if not its actual site.

That meant mainstream media had to pay attention, and the protest couldn't be written off as a "tantrum" thrown by a bunch of pro-piracy geeks, no matter what Rupert Murdoch and MPAA president Christopher Dodd want you to believe.

Now that the world has said nopa to SOPA, we still have her wall-eyed half sister PIPA to deal with. Senator Harry Reid has said he plans to continue to push that legislation forward.

[Update: The day after this post appeared, Reid announced he was postponing the Senate's scheduled vote on PIPA. Feel free to celebrate in a manner of your own choosing.]

What should we do about the scourge of online piracy? In a blog post, Google's chief legal beagle Dave Drummond suggests a simpler and more effective solution: follow the money.

Fighting online piracy is extremely important. We are investing a lot of time and money in that fight. Last year alone we acted on copyright takedown notices for more than 5 million webpages and invested more than $60 million in the fight against ads appearing on bad sites. And we think there is more that can be done here--like targeted and focused steps to cut off the money supply to foreign pirate sites. If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal.

This is the tactic used to track down spammers. The CAN-SPAM Act was too little too late, but at least it opened the door for AOL, EarthLink, Microsoft, and other service providers to sue the biggest spammers for every dime of their ill-gotten gains. Along with various state antispam laws, it allowed prosecutors to toss the worst of the worst into the slammer.

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