SOPA, PIPA, the Internet Blackout and libraries–oh, my!

As I’ve been reading about the various responses to the SOPA and PIPA acts currently being debated in Congress, I’ve been struck with several different thoughts.  First, I understand why some people might feel a need to follow through with this sort of legislation.  I’m a librarian and I understand why we need to protect copyright – and in a way, isn’t that one of the jobs that we do as librarians?  We make sure that the information that we have is protected, we understand that there are rights due the creators of materials, and school librarians even teach about plagiarism.  So in that respect, I can see where this perceived need for protection from online piracy might arise.

However, also as a librarian, aren’t we supposed to provide access to materials and information for all individuals?  If the current bills pass – although Obama has said that he would not sign them into law – then what we are doing is supporting the restriction of free-flowing information.  I’m sure that many of us, whether we realize it, have at some point viewed a video or other material that was not being used appropriately.  The line has blurred for many people as to appropriate use, and as a librarian I do want people to have free and low cost access to information, but at what cost?

And now the masses have spoken…

While many companies and industries support SOPA including NBCUniversal and pharmaceutical giants AstraZeneca and Merck, other major companies such as Wikimedia (Wikipedia) are blacking out parts of the Internet in protest.  I understand protest (and it is certainly a fitting week for it to occur), but at the same time I’m not sure what purpose this will serve.  Twitter has decided that it will not black out its services, but who’s next?

It seems to me that the Wikipedia blackout could have implications for libraries.  All day tomorrow, one of the major sites that many people use to get information is going to be offline – why can’t we jump into that and show how we can provide access to information as well.  Could SOPA and PIPA end up having benefits for libraries or will we sit to the side and wait to see what happens?

It’s really up to us in the end…

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