Earlier today, as I was swapping pictures of dogs in funny outfits with a friend, I thought quietly to myself, “the internet is a truly wonderful place”. And it really is. It has filled my everyday existence with insurmountable joy and burned through countless hours of my life with the ability of its denizens to populate it with such wonderful absurdity. And this all stems from the way information is transmitted freely across communities, gaining momentum and becoming what is known in the internet parlance as “memes”.
But these memes are mostly variations on a source, and this source is usually taken from a piece of work that is copyrighted. By this point, you have probably heard of SOPA (“Stop Online Pirating Act”) and PIPA (“Protect Intellectual Property Act”), two bills in the House of Representatives and Senate of the United States that, although noble in their intentions, could potentially be a horribly dangerous block on the free internet and signal a terrifyingly real step towards internet censorship. You can read the specifics here and here. Sites that are accused of being in breach of too-broad copyright laws are in danger of being shut down without a trial or court hearing. Small sites, communities and non-profits will lack the resources to defend themselves. These bills are sloppily drafted and potentially very dangerous to the free distribution of information (read “free” as in an 11 year old kid reading the Wikipedia page on MLK, not just a grubby nerd downloading all 4 seasons of Breaking Bad off a torrent).
Today, Wikipedia took a public stance: they blacked out the English version of their site to spread awareness of these bills and the potential harm they represent to the free internet. And the public has overwhelmingly opposed SOPA. My friend Dan pointed out that, if SOPA were to take effect, a lot of the memes we know and love would likely not exist, which got me thinking. These are admittedly silly examples, but they’re meant to illustrate ways in which our daily internet life would be different if this bill passed, which only hints at the more serious consequences this could have. Here are 5 awesome memes that would not exist if SOPA had its way.
Dramatic Prairie Dog
This little guy has delighted millions of viewers for years, the original youtube video having over 30 million views, with its hundreds of duplicate videos doubling that number.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that this adorable/horrifying clip has its origins in a Japanese TV show by the name of “Hello! Morning”, set to a music sample taken from John Morris’s score to the 1974 film “Young Frankenstein”. Both the video clip and the music are under copyright. According to SOPA, this copyright infringement could result in shutting down any site that hosted this video, forever depriving us of his furry histrionics.
Xzibit “Yo Dawg”
Xzibit’s career as a rapper has pretty much taken a backseat to his career as an actor and TV personality, which in ITSELF has taken a backseat to his career as an internet meme. As the host of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride”, Mr. X-to-the-Z became notorious for putting unnecessary and over-the-top gadgets and electronics into cars, based off the car owner’s interests. Sometime in 2007, some clever internetter took a picture of a smiling Xzibit and coupled it with the caption above, which gave way to thousands of variations (of varying degrees of quality, as with every meme) and even an angry reaction from the man himself.
Unfortunately for the internet, the image used for this meme comes from a promo photoshoot for the movie “Gridiron Gang”, and it is copyrighted; thus, if you are a webmaster and you posted a variation of this meme, it is fair play for your site to be shut down under SOPA.
All Your Base Are Belong to Us
The grandaddy of internet memes. What can be said about this that hasn’t been said already? This wonderful piece of lunacy is an example of what is known in the internet parlance as “Engrish”, which refers to the less-than-stellar and often hilarious use of the English language as translated from East-Asian languages. The dialogue from the introductory sequence of video game “Zero Wing” is absolutely hysterical, and I challenge anyone to read through the animation above and not crack a smile.
Unfortunately, you know the drill… all your copyright belong to Toaplan and Taito, and you have no chance to survive SOPA make your time. (awful. I know.)
For a period of a few months in early 2008 I couldn’t click on any link– ANY link– without the slight suspicion that it might be a rickroll. Think about this one for a minute… the fact that we’re so used to the concept at this point may make it hard to comprehend just how strange and patently absurd the rickroll is. You send somebody a link, ostensibly directing them to a website of interest, a picture, a video of an awesome song, or porn– but instead, they get the music video to Rick Astley’s insufferable 1987 hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
It’s baffling in the same measure as it is absolutely delightful… or it was, for a while, until Astley himself joined in on the joke. Then it got lame, and I went back to sending masked links to Goatse and Lemonparty instead.
On May of 2010, actor Keanu Reeves sat down on a park bench and ate a sandwich. A Slash News photographer by the name of Ron Asadorian snapped a picture of the very morose-looking actor and it found its way online. Then, magic happened; the picture captured the imaginations of thousands of clever photoshoppers, who proceeded to insert Sad Keanu in all sorts of hysterical situations, resulting in one of the least likely memes in internet history. We don’t know if Keanu as feeling particularly gloomy that day. All we know is that his sadness inspired us.
But, as you’ve probably guessed, the picture is copyrighted, and Splash News has issued DMCA takedown notices on blogs for posting it. Under SOPA, there would be no questions asked, no fair trial or hearing, and any site hosting this picture could potentially be taken down. And that would make Keanu sad*.
*disclaimer: I don’t know if it would actually make Keanu sad. probably not. whatever.
Again, I realize these are all silly and frivolous examples, but the bottom line is: the internet as we know it, in all its absurd and nonsensical beauty, is in danger. Many artist communities, small non-profits and databases may be shut down for technicalities. These bills are well-meaning, but need to be seriously looked at and improved. I agree that the existence of the internet has done terrible things to artists’ ability to earn off their work, and it needs to be reevaluated and controlled, but this is not the way. These badly drafted bills are myopic at best and… I’ll use an euphemism here, lest I come off as a paranoid conspiracy theorist… a step in the “wrong direction” at worst.
Sign Google’s petition to oppose a censored internet here.