I think the SOPA/PIPA internet blackout protest is a useful way to increase the public's awareness of legislation that has a potential to really affect the way the internet is structured. It's a "publicity stunt", indeed, because one of the goals of most protest actions is to increase public awareness of the protestors' point of view. Inconveniencing folks is a good way to do that.

Pure inconvenience is counterproductive, though. The inconvenience has to be mixed with informing the inconvenienced people about your point of view. That's why the various sites blacking themselves out are also providing links to information and ways for folks in the U.S. to contact their legislators.

I find the arguments against SOPA/PIPA convincing, and though some good and powerful people have come out against these specific bills, that doesn't mean the bills are dead, and even if it did, a show of solidarity against such bills can't be a bad thing. There are strong and powerful forces that want to curtail and censor internet communication, but those aren't the only threat — well-intentioned but shoddy legislation of highly technical systems could just as easily wreak havoc.

It's weird to think of being in solidarity with a giant corporate megalord like Google, but hey, this site is made possible by Google, which owns Blogger, and I'm grateful to them for providing it.

Here's a nice summary of some of the issues at hand, written by Sherwin Sly of Public Knowledge back in May:
Often, whenever we point out flaws in the DMCA's safe harbor provisions, we hear a reluctance among those who rely upon it to "open it up" for amendment and improvement. The fear, apparently, is that engaging in that discussion will give the record labels and movie studios an opportunity to lobby for themselves and move the goalposts further. The problem with that caution is that those goalposts are being moved today. Even if section 512 of Title 17 doesn't feel Congress's red pen anytime soon, the actual conditions under which Internet companies and users will have to operate are being changed right now. The structure of the Internet itself, and the premises upon which it is based are being negotiated in Congress, and not by those bodies concerned with its structure as a whole, but by those that see the Internet as merely a means of serving up product, or stealing it. 
But the Internet is more than just another TV channel or some sort of digital magazine. Not only in what it does—connecting individuals and communities across the world—but how it does it. It relies upon technological consensus among a wide variety of actors to remain a global, unified system, but we're seeing that consensus eroding rapidly as more and more political factions come to understand its power and where the levers are. And no matter how good the intentions of the United States government may be, they will be taken as a model for governments everywhere that seek to cut off from their citizens content and speech they'd rather not have available. This bill accelerates the Internet down that path.

Some more sources of information:


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