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SOPA, PIPA, and the Cloud: We Have Mega Issues

SOPA, PIPA, and the Cloud

SOPA and PIPA, two of the most infamous and polemical pieces of governmental legislation aimed squarely at the Internet’s copyright violators in modern history, have produced ripples of interest that should not go unnoticed by the cloud computing community.

After days of heated protest both online and away from the Web, both the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act have been postponed by Congress. The former bill sought to enlarge the authority of American law enforcement to combat web-based trafficking of counterfeit products and intellectual property, while PIPA would have armed the government with additional power to restrict the activities of websites involved with such activity.

Although a maelstrom of dismay on Twitter and virtual discussion forums successfully curbed the power of SOPA/PIPA, some websites did not survive the crossfire. Before closing up shop, Congress nabbed and eliminated Megaupload, a well-known fire sharing site, brandying it as their scapegoat of copyright violation. The indictment against Megaupload noted how many users employed the site as their own personal cloud, storing video files, pictures, and work documents on the site. Many Megaupload fans mourned how conveniently it functioned as a backup service.

Internet users en masse have begun to question the cloud’s benefit as safe and secure storage of their information as a result of the SOPA/PIPA debacle. And rightfully so: this incident has ignited an open discussion for the relevance of the cloud in the current status of the Internet in society.

The whiffs of a cloud backlash in the wake of SOPA/PIPA are not unfounded. But cloud computing skeptics should thoroughly evaluate the entirety of the dilemma before completely writing off the cloud’s positive capacities.

To be sure, actual copyright violators and pirates of intellectual property did flourish on the liberal, expansive nature of Megaupload and its subsidiary sites (such as the extremely popular Megavideo). Yet virtual wrongdoers were not the site’s sole constituents. Many Megaupload users merely regarded the site as a useful repository for their online data. Others backed up their files there, employing Megaupload for its auxiliary function.

Understandably, many would-be cloud users might be warded off by fear of a federal shakedown. Businesses should also be concerned, since their employees might choose to store important information in cloud sites that might be dismantled and rid of their data.

The SOPA/PIPA affair has not concluded by any means. Both Craigslist and Wikipedia warn their users that the bills will continue to lurk in Congress’ shadows, perhaps to eventually resurface in a revamped and less easily overpowered form. But for the interim, the sum of these events should be considered as a cautionary tale.

Both professional companies and private users should thoroughly vet their providers of online data storage, backup, and information hosting well in advance of uploading critical information there. Only vigilance against sites with a history of hosting pirated information can preempt users from being pipped by SOPA/PIPA in the future.

By Jeff Norman

Jeff Norman

Jeff Norman is a freelance writer currently based in New York City. He's moved into writing about cloud computing from substantial work in culture and the arts. He earned his undergraduate degree in English at Stanford and has studied at Oxford and Cambridge.

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