The SOPA and PIPA bills were wiped out of congress, but the wild west days of the internet still in danger
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) were two bills designed by the US Government to lay down the legal framework to aggressively go after websites that infringe upon US copyright and to require the big middlemen of the internet — search engines, internet service providers, and user-generated sites such as Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and blogging systems — to censor pirated content so that American users could not view it. These two bills would have re-shaped the internet as we know it, creating multiple levels of organizations proactively censoring content in order for them to stay clear of legal retributions as well as fast track shut downs of websites that are simply accused of publishing copyright infringing material.
A major online protest ensued in reaction to these bills — thousands of websites, including Wikipedia, blacked out their sites for 24 hours, 13 million Americans people petitioned their representatives online, melting congress’ servers — and the US government responded by wiping both of them off the table.
SOPA and PIPA were dropped, for now.
But the rise of these two bills can be seen as opening the floodgates of governments intervening in the flow of information on the internet, and many fear that other similar bills will raise their heads in the near future. The government of China is often criticized for their repressive internet regulations, but their model is one that other governments are slowing showing interest in following.
The wild west days of the internet are drawing to a close.
The internet is the wild west of media, the last frontiers of mass publishing. Where television, radio, and, to a large extent, periodicals are under the auspice of government regulation the internet was started as a free zone of media. The idea is that anybody can start a website and, if they are good enough or have something to say, build an audience which had no bounds. This idea is being threatened.
The internet is becoming ever more controlled by corporate interests — or at least catering to such — in search politics, in advertising, in traffic “sinks” that suck in huge percentages of online users. In this climate it is becoming difficult for the independent webmaster to compete. The publisher who can get a few thousand visitors a day to actually leave Facebook and visit their pages is completing a massive feat, let alone the one who figures out how to make a living off this traffic. The writer who publishes innovative “how to” information is now just going to have their worked scraped by large sites like ehow.com and be ousted from the SERPs. If you write a truly original article that creates a social media buzz, within a week the corporate sites and fakers in your niche will publish a similar piece and try to knock you off the map. If you work hard on your site for many years, build an incredible body of information, the Big G now looks at you with suspicion: sites with more pages than their “brand footprint” have been axed in droves this past year. If you take a good look at your search engine search results you will see something funny: big, corporate sites dominating top area of the rankings. This is by design.
Now the battle cry for the corporate takeover of the web is clear: fight intellectual property theft. Under this banner the search engines, other sites linking in, social media, and perhaps even internet service providers are going to make webmasters prove to them over and over again that they are not copyright infringes. The easiest way to do this is to give already trusted and established brands preference and push the rest of the websites farther out into the barren deserts of the internet.
Where has the independent webmaster gone?
The independent webmaster is fading from view because they cannot be trusted. They are the cowboys of our time, publishing unregulated information that is outside of the control of commercial brands, editors, content overseers. They often have no clear and substantial markers of authority. Their good ideas are stolen by the big boys as they are kept down into the dungeons of the internet. Running a website is an ongoing mission to constantly prove that your content is good, original, and relevant to the search engines, to other sites, and soon, perhaps, to governments.
The corporate takeover of the internet will be subtle: you’re never going to miss a site you never landed on. SOPA and PIPA, which were aimed to defend corporate interests, failed because they stepped on the toes of other very powerful corporations: Google, Facebook, and their ilk. I am sure that the next round of government legislation designed to regulate the internet will be just as harsh and heinous as SOPA/ PIPA but they will leave the big boys in the clear, and far less people will even hear about them.
I feel like Butch Cassidy when he realized that the wild west was not so wild anymore, that the rule of law was closing in around him, that he would need to seek a new frontier or go home. He went to South America. In today’s age there is nowhere to run, the authorities are quickly covering the planet in a global blanket of control. Communication is perhaps the biggest source of power on the planet and the internet is the most vibrant source of communication. Look for the corporations and governments to do to the internet what they do best: consolidate their mutual interests in the name of power and wealth.
The Wild West was destined to be won and controlled. Corporate/ governmental control of the internet is equally inevitable. SOPA/ PIPA or a series of laws under another name will be passed, and the internet will come under the authority of the corporations and big government, as the independent publisher — the workhorses of the internet — will fade farther from view.
I can see the day when a webmaster will need a license to have their sites appear in various countries. The Wild West of the internet is fading, and it is going to take a lot more than blackouts to keep it alive.
What’s the point of writing a good instructional article when ehow is going to scrape your ideas and take your traffic? What is the point of writing an interesting story when a big site in your niche is going to pay some lackey to copy it and claim it for themselves? What is the point of working hard publishing multiple articles a day when the Big G can one day decide that you have more pages than your size “brand” should have and drop you from their SERPs? How can you strive make a living off your site when you can now be penalized for having too many ads above the fold (the best placement for ad performance)?
Because in the process of all of this, the herd is being thinned.
In the words of Aaron Wall:
“That [Google algorithm changes] may mean pain in the short run, but (for those who take it as a wake up call to develop brand & organic non-search traffic streams) far more rewards in the longrun for those who remain after the herd is thinned.” –SEObook.com, Adsense to Spam Cents
The competition for the independent webmaster is growing stronger, but the number of viable contestants are getting fewer. The independent sites that have been around for long time and are still here in January of 2012 are the survivors — they were adaptive enough to contend with the challenges that have been thrown at them and stand a chance to do so into the future. In the end, the ever increasing barrage of new hoops to jump through and fresh gauntlets to run will only make these sites stronger if they find a way to keep surviving. Adaptability is probably the best quality that a species can have for evolutionary longevity, and the key here is to be a virtual cockroach eating up the crumbs that fall from the tables above while this mass extinction phase of the internet runs its course. The number of webmasters willing and able to “turn cockroach,” change and adapt are few. Many just give up after the first punch. The herd is being thinned, and those that are left will get the crumbs.