Soapy by Griffin Boyce: SOPA legislation is shelved for now, but University City developer has work-around for later - Technical.ly Philly

Jan. 23, 2012 10:00 am

Soapy by Griffin Boyce: SOPA legislation is shelved for now, but University City developer has work-around for later

Before the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout took hold last week, Griffin Boyce, a University City-based web developer, thought up a more practical way to protest a piece of legislation that many believe would amount to censorship — create some software to work around it. In less than three hours, the self-taught Boyce built […]

University City developer Griffin Boyce built Soapy, a SOPA work-around browser plugin.

Before the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) blackout took hold last week, Griffin Boyce, a University City-based web developer, thought up a more practical way to protest a piece of legislation that many believe would amount to censorship — create some software to work around it.

In less than three hours, the self-taught Boyce built Soapy, a web browser plug-in that would allow a user to see a website blocked under SOPA by automatically redirecting the user to the site’s IP address. Designed to be easy to use and open source, the software is free, can be downloaded by anyone and has caught attention nationally.

Download it here.

The idea, Boyce explained to Technically Philly, was to build and publish the software as soon as possible before a Senate vote on SOPA’s sister bill, Protect IP Act (PIPA), originally scheduled for tomorrow, knowing that if the bill passed, distribution of Soapy would be illegal. Though the legislation has been shelved for now, the issue will likely be heard again.

“With Soapy,” Boyce said, “you’re popping the censorship bubble, and slipping past information blocks.”

Though SOPA and its Senate sister bill PIPA have both been put on hold for now, there is little doubt that the concept behind the tool is still valuable.

Online piracy will likely find legislative opposition again and it’s a problem most agree needs a solution.

Still, Boyce says, “There’s a world of difference between fighting piracy and restricting liberty. These bills fail to fight piracy in any meaningful way, but make stifling personal liberties trivial. There’s the old saying that ‘Information wants to be free.’ Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.”

Boyce says that Soapy has already been downloaded upwards of 9,000 times, including by users outside the United States, especially in Spain, Chile, and Malaysia.

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Part of the motivation to create and name Soapy stems from the developer’s passion for the free flow of information and his concerns about censorship, Boyce told TP.

“Activists, hackers, coders, and business owners came together in a big way in 2011 to help fight abuses of power in the Middle East. If we can help Middle Eastern activists fight for free speech, then why not spend a little time working on these issues at home as well?”

Boyce, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, now calls University City home. Though originally planning to move to Seattle, Boyce ended up falling in love with Philadelphia. Since arriving in Philly, Boyce has developed a penchant for “hipster watching, bouncy squirrels, and Tofu Hoagies from Fu Wah.”

Want to know a little more about how Soapy works? Here are the details from the release:

“Soapy is written in JavaScript and XML. The code is available on GitHub for programmers, activists, and informed consumers. Every site that Soapy unblocks has a set of XML rules that are tailored to the quirks of that specific site. Much of the code has been borrowed from HTTPS-Everywhere and NoScript. Templates are available so that unblocking future sites can be crowdsourced by hacktivists inside or outside the United States as quickly as they are identified.”

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