Lamar Smith, Sponsor of SOPA, Gets A Crowdfunded Message From The Internet

The Representative from Texas, Lamar Smith, is well known around the Internet for all the wrong reasons. Rep. Smith was one of the key sponsors of the ill-fated Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was protested by mostly the entire Internet and has been (for the most part) shelved because of these protests. One of the sites that went dark during this protest was Reddit.com, the popular link aggregator and community website that is well loved by the geeky community.

However, Reddit users decided to take things a little further by sending a loud and clear message to Lamar Smith. The idea was to hire a billboard and populate it with the message right outside Smith’s office. The content of the message? “Don’t mess with the Internet.”

A new website called FightfortheFuture.org was set up and a crowdfunding gateway was built to fund a billboard. This is the result:-

billboard_main

More things have been planned, according to the website and frankly, we cannot wait:

This is an election year, and we’ve got a lot planned. Right now we’re scrambling to organize Senate constituent meetings to stop CISPA / Lieberman-Collins. The Internet Defense League is gearing up to build the network that stopped SOPA into an ongoing force for good. We’ll be taking aim at the US “6-strikes” regime. And even bigger things are in the works for the November election.

What is ACTA and How It Will Affect You

The Internet has seen a rapid growth in information-flow over the last decade. Search, location based services and online knowledge bases have worked collectively towards creating a knowledgeable global society, which is well connected through this wonderful communication medium. The Internet is the largest network in the world, and the best thing about the Internet is that it has no formal owner or operating boundaries. For this reason, it has always attracted censorship laws that regulate the content flowing through it. This censorship gives legal control, and in a way, would give ownership to the regulating authority!

Over the last few months, SOPA and PIPA have been trying to take control of the Internet. Although they were finally averted with mass protests, it must be noted that SOPA and PIPA were not the only bills threatening the Internet and its user-generated content.

What is ACTA?

If SOPA was a speck of dust, ACTA is the real sandstorm here. ACTA stands for Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement and covers many other verticals, beside online content. Although the European Commission has some assurances and good-looking points for ACTA up on its website, it will definitely create upheaval in the free-speech world.

SOPA Author Violates Copyrights On His Own Site, Is Also Guilty Of Being Very Immoral

Well, well, well what do we have here? It seems that the Vice website has found a tiny little hole in US Senator Lamar Smith’s rather untarnished website, which is more than we can say about his reputation.

LamarSmith

Who is Lamar Smith, you ask? He is the author of the Stop Online Privacy Piracy Act or SOPA. SOPA, as we know, is a diabolical little bill that was up for debate a few days ago in the US Senate. If this Act had passed (which has not happened yet, thankfully), then if you use a copyrighted image on your website and do not take permission or credit the owner of the copyright, you will be jailed and/or penalized very harshly.

DJSmith

Logically speaking, by his own rhetoric, Lamar Smith should be jailed and/or penalized very harshly. As Vice found out, Lamar Smith was using a photograph that was taken by DJ Smith and released under Creative Commons license for the background of his website. The Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license under which this photograph was released clearly indicates that if the photograph is used:-

  • then it must be used in a non commercial website or for a non commercial cause,
  • it must be shared alike, i.e. the photograph must be released with the exact same license and
  • the author of the media (the photographer) must be credited

While not asking for permission for using the photograph is alright, not attributing it to DJ Smith is a criminal offense. As the photographer says:-

I have no recollection, nor record of Lamar Smith or anyone from his organization requesting permission to use my image “Mist Lifting Off Cedars”. That lack of request does not violate the Creative Commons license although it does show high disregard for creative material producers. What does violate my Creative Commons license though is that I do not see anywhere on the screen capture that the image was attributed to the source (me). It would seem this image was improperly used by the organization of the very author of the SOPA bill that is being debated in Congress.

Unfortunately, it would seem like the creators and supporters of SOPA have little knowledge about the real process of creation, or indeed the novel ways in which media is shared around the internet.

However, it goes deeper than that. A little bit of sleuthing (also known these days are browsing pages on Wikipedia) provides some more information about Representative Smith:-

  • In 2006, he proposed a bill that would give the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) more teeth when dealing with violators. By more teeth, we mean wiretapping authority on suspected violators of the DMCA. The DMCA, if you remember, is the primary reason why we have the scourge called Digital Rights Management still being thrown at legitimate customers of music, movies and video games.
  • Just last year, a brilliant bill proposed by Barney Frank and Ron Paul that would put an end to the prohibition against marijuana use was opposed by Lamar Smith. He opposed it on the grounds that “[M]arijuana use and distribution is prohibited under federal law because it has a high potential for abuse and does not have an accepted medical use in the U.S., The Food and Drug Administration has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease.” All this right after the National Cancer Institute stated that “cannabis and cannabinoids have been studied in the laboratory and the clinic for relief of pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, and loss of appetite”. Apparently, decriminalizing a scientifically deemed harmless drug is a hard thing for Agent Mr. Smith to follow. This may be due to the next factoid, which is…
  • In 2011 Smith had received $37,250 in campaign contributions from the Beer, Wine and Liquor Lobby, and $65,800 total between 2009 and 2011. Maplight.org listed the Beer, Wine, and Liquor Lobby as third among Smith’s top ten campaign contributors.
  • Last, but not the least where we are concerned, he is also the proposer of the new Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which is basically another internet freedom gagging bill with the convenient foil of child pornography thrown in for good measure so that any opponents of the bill can be easily shown to be secret child porn enthusiasts. This bill will force Internet Service Providers to keep eighteen month records of all activity on all their customers because anyone could be looking around for child porn (apparently). If this does not seem like an easy back door for Big Brother to spy on us, I suggest you wake up from your deep political slumber.

In a recent post on online community Reddit, a poster in the campus of University of Texas, Austin denounced Lamar Smith, a comment by Reddit user CookiesAHelluvaDrug (remember content is more important than the username) went on to say:-

Lamar Smith:
*Voted YES on allowing school prayer during the War on Terror. (Nov 2001
*Voted NO on additional $10.2B for federal education & HHS projects. (Nov 2007)
*Rated 17% by the NEA, indicating anti-public education votes. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. (Apr 2011)
*Voted NO on starting implementation of Kyoto Protocol. (Jun 2000)
*Voted YES on deauthorizing “critical habitat” for endangered species. (Sep 2005)
*Rated 0% by the LCV, indicating anti-environment votes. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on restricting independent grassroots political committees. (Apr 2006)
*Voted NO on protecting whistleblowers from employer recrimination. (Mar 2007)
*Rated 0% by APHA, indicating a anti-public health voting record. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps. (Feb 2011)
*Voted NO on requiring FISA warrants for wiretaps in US, but not abroad. (Mar 2008)
*Voted YES on continuing military recruitment on college campuses. (Feb 2005)
*Rated 0% by the ARA, indicating an anti-senior voting record. (Dec 2003)
*Voted YES on terminating funding for National Public Radio. (Mar 2011)
*Voted NO on investigating Bush impeachment for lying about Iraq. (Jun 2008)
*Voted NO on removing US armed forces from Afghanistan. (Mar 2011)

Remember, UT falls under Smith’s area of representation.

Now I am not the one to make an ad hominem argument about a politician who does not even belong to my country, but from his exemplary track record, it would seem like this man does not have a shred of good sense left in him. Seriously, stop electing this guy. I do hope he never goes into the lower house ever again.

[Photo: Mist Lifting off Cedars by dj @ oxherder arts]

[Hat tip to Chinmoy for letting me know about this guy]

Coach.com and Coachfactory.com Hacked to Protest Against SOPA by UGNazi Group

It looks like the SOPA war is getting bigger with another new group called UGNazi stepping in and hacking sites which support SOPA. The group has currently hacked Coach.com and Coachfactory.com to protest SOPA and are going to hack more sites in retaliation.

All the three sites are currently redirecting to a site called ugnazi.com which was created yesterday. It is not clear as to whether this is a new group or another form of Anonymous who have been taking down websites like that of FBI, CIA and more to retaliate government control and shutdown of sites like Megaupload.

Also Read: An Interview with an OpDarknet Anon

Over the past few days, Megaupload was shut down by FBI and several other file sharing websites pulled the trigger on themselves with FileSonic stopping downloads, Uploaded.to blocking the U.S. users and several other file sharing websites shutting operations.

The UGNazi group had earlier hacked UFC.com website and is against the SOPA from USA and ACTA bill from Europe which are draconian piracy bills in their current form.

We understand that these websites will enevitably (sic) take back their website.
We don’t steal users data, only here to make them aware.
From SOPA/PIPA, to ACTA to just pissing us off…there is always a reason

It is unclear if the group is associated with Anonymous, but it looks like their motives are same. SOPA, PIPA and now ACTA have definitely stirred quite a few users on the internet and we will definitely keep seeing more such attacks in the future.

Story developing….

Uploaded.to Not Working? Blocked in US Because of Megaupload

This has been a very interesting last few days with the draconian piracy law of SOPA and PIPA being defeated in the U.S. Congress and Megaupload being shutdown by the U.S. Justice Department. In fact the Megaupload website was back online shortly on different servers as well.

In retaliation of the Megaupload shutdown, the famous group Anonymous also took down several websites in protest. However, it looks like the protest is now growing to another level.

According to reports from Torrent Freak, another file sharing website called Uploaded.to is now blocking users from U.S. and not allowing them to upload or download files from their service. This is definitely a big rebuttal from them and would likely make other services follow in their footsteps.

Uploaded.to Banned in U.S.

Currently, users who visit uploaded.to from United States are displayed a message similar to the one in the image above. It reads:

Not available

Our service is currently unavailable in your country. Sorry about that.

Uploaded.to has a traffic rank of 3075 in the United States according to Alexa and serves about 350K users from United States according to Compete. Though their stats are no where near what Megaupload had; which was the 13th most popular website in the world, it would definitely inconvenience U.S. users who have used it to store files on the website.

There is no official update from Uploaded.to about this blockage and whether it will remain permanent. In the meantime, if you have been affected by the Megaupload takedown or the Uploaded.to blockage, don’t forget to check out several alternatives to Megaupload to store files in the cloud and other ways to share files online.

Reddit and Y Combinator Want to Take the Censorship Battle to the Entertainment Industry

For the last few years, the entertainment industry has been trying its level best to censor the Internet. It has been pushing the US government to pass arbitrary laws, which have less to do with piracy and more to do with controlling free speech. The matter is getting worse, with their bills getting more stringent and harder to oppose. A draconian bill like SOPA, which never should have been considered, required a massive protest to be rescheduled and dropped later! Censorship bills are created every few months, with backing from the media-industry lobbyists. If the anti-censorship opposition grows weak anytime, a censorship bill passes without doubt. This is a delicate balance, which we have come to accept. Finally, Reddit and Y Combinator have decided that it is time to stop fighting the small battles and address the root cause- the entertainment industry.

The first time I saw this idea springing up on a website was at “The best page in the universe” [mildly NSFW].

Instead of changing your Facebook icon to an anti-SOPA image for a day or two, here’s something you can do that might make a real difference: boycott the companies that supported this legislation. There are too many to boycott all of them effectively, so I propose we pick two or three, hit them, and hit them hard. Punish them for putting their interests above ours.

As suggested above, both Reddit and Y Combinator are gearing up against the entertainment industry in their own fashion.

Reddit is looking to boycott movies made by the top six recording studios, namely Walt Disney, Sony, Paramount, Fox, Universal and Warner Brothers. A huge discussion has started outlining the strategy and inventory for the battle.

Make [it] look professional instead of like a handful of angry nerds using rage faces and MS paint to call the MPAA [names]. It would be hard to blame piracy when a single studio starts to sink and a boycott announced weeks before said it was going to happen.

At the same time, popular startup-funding firm Y Combinator has decided to fund startups that will compete with movies and TV shows.

What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?

The entire SOPA fiasco was an eye opener, both for the Internet (severe censorship bills) and for the entertainment industry (strong protests). Perhaps, it really should get worse before it gets better. Only time will tell how this ends.

Megaupload Shutdown by Feds, Proves Further That SOPA is a Dud Bill, Anonymous Retaliates

Soon after the Internet community pinned down SOPA, the feds went after Megaupload and brought it down. Megaupload is one of the world’s most popular file-sharing websites. It has been charged with over $500 million in losses over piracy of music, movies and TV shows. This is one of the largest criminal copyright cases, and the Justice Department along with the FBI has been prompt in bringing it to a closure. Surprisingly, they did not need to use anything like SOPA in this case. This proves that there is enough law for taking down apparently rogue websites. SOPA is absolutely unnecessary and hence, unwelcome.

stop-censorship

The founder of Megaupload Kim Dotcom, along with three others, was arrested at New Zealand, on request by US authorities. Megaupload was one of the 18 domains owned by Kim Dotcom and his company, and all of them were seized following raids on their three datacenters. However, this domain-seizure and arrest came as a surprise, because a few days ago, Kim made a bold statement in an interview with TorrentFreak.

Mega has nothing to fear. Our business is legitimate and protected by the DMCA and similar laws around the world. We work with the best lawyers and play by the rules. We take our legal obligations seriously. Mega’s war chest is full and we have strong supporters backing us.

The position on file-sharing websites has always been a controversial one in the anti-piracy debate. NY Times puts it into fine words saying,

Megaupload and similar sites, like Rapidshare and Mediafire, are often promoted as convenient ways to legitimately transfer large files; a recent promotional video had major stars like Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas singing Mega-upload’s praises. But they have become notorious inside media companies, which see the legitimate uses as a veil concealing extensive theft.

In the midst of all this ballyhoo, Anonymous rose in protest against the Megaupload shutdown, and brought down the Justice Department website for a brief period. They also attacked the MPAA, RIAA and Universal Music Group websites.

Do not forget to read some interesting traffic stats for Megaupload.

The MPAA Responds To The Blackouts With Self Pitying Prose

In response to the Internet-wide blackout in protest of the gagging SOPA/PIPA bills, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – a major backer of these bills – has issued a statement claiming that the sites that protested had made their users corporate pawns and abused their power to arm-twist the US Senate to reconsider what may be one of the most important bills for the country. Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, Senator Chris Dodd issued a statement which is on the official MPAA website. The statement is bereft of any real logic and is instead full of contorted facts that paint the MPAA as an honest and upright association that only serves the US citizens and not its own pockets.

MPAA

Initially, I did not believe it. Actually, I still cannot believe it. I cannot believe that the CEO of the MPAA actually thinks that the general public can actually buy what he is saying:-

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

How is a user-supported protest – like that on Reddit – and a community-driven protest – like that on Wikipedia – a “gimmick”? Perhaps it is time to go back to the boardroom and find out what exactly is the problem with a bill that is receiving so many negative reactions throughout the country as well as across the world. Maybe, just maybe, these bills are a gateway to the Land Without Free Speech Or Information.

Has the MPAA’s CEO and Chairman thought about that? I think not.

 

Slew of Websites Black Out to Protest SOPA/PIPA

The scourges that are the United States’ two gagging Acts – the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) – are experiencing grave turmoil as large sections of the widely used Internet are blacking out for one day in protest against their draconian nature. The ongoing protest against the Bills intensified as Wikipedia, a veritable behemoth on the Internet, joined in the protest as we mentioned earlier. Following close on its heels is the giant community link aggregation website Reddit as well as the website of indie game maker Mojang, the creators of Minecraft. Many other gaming company heads joined together to stand against the draconian law’s enactment.

If passed, the Bills will allow any legal entity that claims copyright infringement on a site to take it down completely, instead of the offending article. For example, if Techie Buzz published an article containing a copyrighted image from a leading record label’s website, our blog will be taken down immediately, without trial. This is even if we give the due credit where it is due.

In short, this is a gagging order for much of the Internet in the name of protecting intellectual property rights. Moreover, the website that is the intended target of this – torrent aggregator The Pirate Bay – is immune to the United States’ laws since it does not fall under America’s jurisdiction.

If allowed to pass, SOPA/PIPA will destroy the beautiful and open Internet completely and irreversibly. In a few minutes Reddit will black out in protest. If you reside in the USA, send a letter to your local representative against passing these Bills. Do your part for retaining the Free Internet!

Wikipedia Plans Blackout to Protest SOPA

Wikipedia Blackout

Students doing research for a paper due on Thursday better buckle down and study hard tonight! Wikipedia won’t be an option starting at 5:00AM UTC tomorrow. Wikipedia plans to stage a blackout in protest of the controversial legislation called SOPA. Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, Sue Gardner, wrote:

“The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate — that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.”

Yesterday, our own  reported that U.S. Representative “Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA”. This news brought widespread joy for many internet users across the globe however, the reality is we’re far from out of the woods on this. There’s big money behind this bill and this recent action threatens to merely slow down the proponents of SOPA. To be perfectly honest, there is probably big money on both sides of this issue.

RIAA and MPIAA, which represent the entertainment industry, are the biggest proponents of this bill. On one hand they have legitimate concerns because of the piracy that is proliferated on the internet. However, on the other hand, the entertainment industry is a victim of its own inability to stay relevant in today’s society. They see many turning to alternative forms of entertainment via the internet and they know there is money to be made there. The problem however, is that instead of coming up with innovative ideas to draw a new generation of customers, they prefer to legislate the competition out of existence. The means by which SOPA would address online piracy would create a lot of collateral damage. Wikipedia recognizes that they could easily be damaged with this legislation.

One concern that Wikipedia had in making this decision, is that they prefer to be politically neutral. According to their letter, the decision to stage this protest wasn’t taken lightly. Though Wikipedia articles are considered neutral, its existence is not, which is what prompted Wikimedia Foundation board member, Kat Walsh, to write:

We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.

But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.

Tomorrow, I hope the blackout is deeply felt and that it calls us to action. Take a moment and learn what SOPA and PIPA are all about and make your voice heard. Though some of the intentions of this bill are good, the fact is the legislation in its current form is bad. The internet is the last frontier of true freedom we have on the planet. We need to appreciate its importance and stand up for it the best we can.

For more information see Wikipedia’s Letter:  English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout