On January 18, 2012, a number of the Internet’s major English-language sites will black out between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to protest during Congressional hearings on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, H.R. 3261) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA, S968), which would put such stringent due-diligence requirements on sites to avoid inadvertent copyright infringement that it would amount to censorship on a major scale, those opposing the legislation say.
Those in favor of the legislation say that the ban would merely protect content creators from having their work stolen or their copyright infringed upon. The goal, they say, is to cut down on piracy, not quelch free expression.
PC Magazine reports that up to 7,000 sites are planning to black out, most notably reddit, Boing Boing and, as of January 16, Wikipedia’s English-language sites. CBS News reported on January 17 that MoveOn.org and Mozilla will also darken their sites. TwitPic, the Cheezburger networks are following suit. Major League Gaming, which had already moved all its domains off SOPA/PIPA supporter GoDaddy.com, announced that it too would participate in the blackout. All the sites said they would substitute links to information on the bills in lieu of their usual content.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said the microblogging service will not join in the blackout.
“Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,” he tweeted.
And the bills themselves have plenty of support, such as this statement from the Motion Picture Association of America’s Michael O’Leary, as quoted in The Los Angeles Times: “It’s part and parcel of a campaign to distract from the real issue here and to draw people away from trying to resolve what is a real problem, which is that foreigners continue to steal the hard work of Americans.”
Here’s why some of the major sites are honoring the blackout.
“Big Content haven’t just declared war on Boing Boing and Reddit and the rest of the ‘fun’ Internet: They’ve declared war on every person who uses the net to publicize police brutality, every oppressed person in the Arab Spring who used the net to organize protests and publicize the blood spilled by their oppressors, every abused kid who used the net to reveal her father as a brutalizer of children, every gay kid who used the net to discover that life is worth living despite the torment she’s experiencing, every grassroots political campaigner who uses the net to make her community a better place—as well as the scientists who collaborate online, the rescue workers who coordinate online, the makers who trade tips online, the people with rare diseases who support each other online, and the independent creators who use the Internet to earn their livings…. The contempt for human rights on display with SOPA and PIPA is more than foolish. Foolishness can be excused. It’s more than greed. Greed is only to be expected. It is evil, and it must be fought.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it. Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community.” —Reddit Team, in a blog post
“This will be the first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made. It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.” —Sue Gardner, Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation
“SOPA has earned the dubious honor of facilitating Internet censorship in the name of fighting online infringement. SOPA represents the flawed proposition that censorship is an acceptable tool to protect rights owners’ private interests in particular media. That is, SOPA would block entire foreign websites in the United States as a response to remove from sight select infringing material. This is so even when other programs like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have found better balances without the use of such a bludgeon. —Wikipedia’s Geoff, on why SOPA would inhibit free expression
“Normally we stay away from politics here at the official WordPress project—having users from all over the globe that span the political spectrum is evidence that we are doing our job and democratizing publishing, and we don’t want to alienate any of our users no matter how much some of us may disagree with some of them personally…. [BUT] “In the U.S. our legal system maintains that the burden of proof is on the accuser, and that people are innocent until proven guilty. This tenet seems to be on the chopping block when it comes to the web if these bills pass, as companies could shut down sites based on accusation alone…. We should not be so quick to codify something this far-reaching…. The people writing these laws are not the people writing the independent web, and they are not out to protect it. We have to stand up for it ourselves.” —Jane Wells, User Experience (UX) blogger for WordPress