But just in case you don't, here's a hopefully helpful little round-up of links and discussion of why these bills, very similar to each other and currently making their way through Congress, are important for every single one of us to know about, and why they should not be allowed to pass. Also: what you can do to help protest them.
What are SOPA and PIPA?
Look, a metric ton of people and entities have already summarized or explained this, so here are a couple of links to the sort-of short versions:
Here's the House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, on Wikipedia.
And, just in case for some wacky reason you think that's biased or something, here's the bill's official summary, which is a bit harder to read (paragraphs would be helpful, guys!).
And here's the full text for SOPA.
Here's the similar Senate bill, PIPA, on Wikipedia.
And the bill's official summary.
And the full text.
And here's my tiny, not-at-all-detailed-but-true summary of why these bills are bad news:
Although the purpose (preventing infringement of intellectual property) is admirable, SOPA and PIPA are overbroad, and have a huge potential for abuse or misapplication. This is both my opinion and the general consensus of informed people and entities who are protesting the legislation. If enacted, either bill could change everything we know about how the internet works today, and negatively affect a lot of online activities that have nothing to do with copyright and trademark, or that would be defensible under Fair Use, etc. and are not currently targeted. Either could also have a serious chilling effect on web creativity, entrepreneurship, and speech.
What's currently going on?
At this time, there has been huge opposition to the bills by internet users and internet companies and websites, among others. Examples include: blackouts by major sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, Wordpress, etc., partial blackouts by other sites like Google, Etsy, LiveJournal, etc. (sites still available but featuring info and links on how to protest the bills to Congress), 97% and 96% opposed on the polls linked to both bills on the govtrack.us site, and relevant opposition hashtags trending on Twitter.
Primary supporters seem to be big entertainment companies, such as the MPAA (who spoke out against the blackouts as a publicity stunt, rather than the statement against government over-reaching that they are). Honestly, I haven't seen a ton of statements in support of the bills, but what has come through are from the big movie and music companies.
The White House has issued this statement recently, in which the Obama administration has indicated that he would veto the bill in its present form. This has sent legislators back to the drawing board to work on redrafting or amending the current bill in order to "reach a consensus."
This isn't the end of things, however - they are working on SOPA, which presumably will move forward soon, and PIPA is slated for a vote on January 24, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rejecting requests for postponement and saying "this is an issue that is too important to delay."
I'd argue that it's also too important to rush through, Senator Reid.
Why you should care and what you can do:
One of the biggest problems with the current proposed legislation is that it's overbroad. I'm seeing a lot of folks saying, "Would Etsy shut down? Flickr? How would my podcast be affected? What would happen to YouTube? Will Wikipedia go? What about open-source sites? And on and on and on. Major sites like Wikipedia have immediate concerns about the broad effects of the potential law. Tiny players like someone with a personal blog have the same concerns. And here's the key: these people are the Internet. We are all the Internet. And we will all be affected if this legislation passes.
From the biggest informational or search sites, through the news and humor sites, through the big stores and quirky craft shops, through the discussion forums and social networks, to your own little blog and Twitterfeed, and much, much more, we, as a whole, make up the Internet. And so legislation that is meant to govern the internet has to consider and make clear the ways in which such legislation will affect us; all of us. And these bills, in all their vague glory, do not do that. This is why we must care about them, and protest them, and advocate better solutions.
I'm not suggesting legislation addressing the effect on every little website; but I'm suggesting, at the very least, clear guidelines and perhaps protections for websites, as opposed to just the attacks on infringement that are currently proposed. And I'm suggesting legislation that targets the mosquito instead of the entire forest it lives in. I'm an attorney, with an education and background that includes IP law, and I could not predict offhand all the myriad ways that these proposed laws might be applied with negative and unnecessary effects, or how Esty or your little blog, or numerous other things, might be affected. But I can see how the legislation could be misapplied or abused, and change the internet as a whole. And both of those things worry me. And they should worry you, too. If they do, one good way to express those concerns, and your reservations about the bills, is to call your representative in Congress. Or email. Or tweet at them. There are tons of ways to make your voice heard.
It's interesting to note that at a November House Judiciary Committee hearing, numerous observers noted that the set of speakers who testified regarding SOPA lacked technical expertise. Here's a choice quote: "the techno-ignorance of Congress was on full display. Member after member admitted that they really didn’t have any idea what impact SOPA’s regulatory provisions would have on the DNS, online security, or much of anything else." That is, well, just ridiculous, and is yet another reason to oppose the current bills.
That writer also makes a good point, which is, essentially, it's not enough to protest when you see a proposed law that is a bad idea (although that is one important act). If we don't want Congress fumbling around with things they apparently know little about, and making bad laws, people who are more informed or see the problems inherent in the proposed legislation need to get into the action, with public comments and proposals that would target the relevant issues without the negative concerns we have here. With raising specific concerns for Congress to look into. With asking questions and trying to ensure Congress is on the right track. With ensuring our concerns are represented well before the final draft of a bill. Because even if SOPA and PIPA are defeated, Congress is going to keep trying: 2008, 2010, 2011 into 2012, they've been trying to get things like this passed; and really, it's not inherently evil of them to do that. There's nothing wrong with protecting intellectual property, and to be against SOPA or PIPA is not to be for piracy. It's just to be for better solutions to it.
I realize that the status quo is such for a reason, and that people are not really motivated to do what is Congress's job, or what runs the risk of negatively impacting their current state of being - but maybe it's time for people who really care about how the Internet works and has benefitted our society to think of ways to improve IP protections online without infringing on everything else we value about it. Ways to do this include everything from thinking and talking about viable and fair solutions online, to participating in the public comment period that is available when proposed legistation is published in the Federal Register, to getting lobbyists to advocate for our concerns from start to finish, as this group is now raising money to do (feel free to donate!), to...whatever other brilliant ideas you have. I know you all have brilliant ideas, because after all - you're the Internet. Which is brilliant. I hope it stays that way.
Current information and links via Twitter today:
@foresthouse: Speaking of which, blacked-out sites: Wikipedia, Craigslist, Reddit, ICanHazCheeseburger, GW Patriot, Middlebury & Syracuse blogs... #stopSOPA
@foresthouse: Google & Wikipedia and others have info on how to easily contact your gov't rep & help #stopSOPA. It's simple & quick.
@foresthouse: If you don't do anything else re: #stopSOPA today: load @Wikipedia, stare at that grey page for a minute, & imagine it always being blank.
@foresthouse: I tell you it gave me an eerie, panicky, hollow feeling to look at it & imagine a world without @Wikipedia & other free resources. #wiki911
RT @stephenfry: Good for Wikipedia. Ashamed to work in an industry many of whose leaders have tried to push this revolting law through http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16590585
RT @Wikipedia: Read about how the decision for #wikipediablackout was made and why #SOPA #PIPA are bad for free knowledge http://ur1.ca/7j5mn
RT @neilhimself: I am patron of the @Openrightsgroup. This is why we are joining the protests against SOPA and PIPA: http://bit.ly/Aikzb3
RT @scalzi: Oh, and yeah, the only thing on my site today: SOPA/PIPA and why I oppose them. http://whatever.scalzi.com/
RT @cleolinda: #shitjustgotreal RT @BoingBoing: 4chan blacks out comments: http://4chan.org
RT @washingtonpost: PHOTOS: A look at website protests against #SOPA today: http://wapo.st/wf8rYC #aworldwithoutwiki
YES. RT @ikepigott: Dear @SenChrisDodd - Thank you for the MPAA letter on SOPA. I have proposed some edits | http://ike4.me/sopa
@foresthouse: Read this: The EEF explains why #SOPA and #PIPA are bad ideas and could easily be used to infringe on free speech: http://bit.ly/wnmaxS
RT @wilw: http://getyourcensoron.com/
RT @jamesmoran: Read. Absorb. RT @jonrog1: I link to the only two articles you really need to discuss SOPA/PIPA http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2012/01/post-i-wish-id-written-on-sopa.html
And see: An open letter to Washington from Artists and Creators, via Neil Gaiman.
And also see: http://www.stopthewall.us/ and http://arstechnica.com/