Yesterday (18 January), thousands of websites joined in unanimous protest against proposed US legislation – the biggest online protest in history. Websites joined in protest against two controversial US bills, SOPA and PIPA, aimed at combating online piracy and protecting copyrighted materials.
Websites that joined in the blackout included Wikipedia, the 6th most visited website in the world, Wired, Reddit, Firefox and thousands of other websites who blacked-out or censored aspects of their websites in protest against US legislation – an unprecedented move. Visitors arriving at Wikipedia yesterday were greeted with a blacked-out page with the message:
“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.
“For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet.”
One of the most interesting websites to view yesterday was Wired.com, which had censored virtually every headline, link and text on its homepage as a statement. The only uncensored headline was an article stating “Why _____ Censoring Wired”. Here Wired explained why they were engaging in this day of protest:
“Under the current wording of the measures, the Attorney General would have the power to order ISPs [internet service prividers] to block access to foreign-based sites suspected of trafficking in pirated and counterfeit goods; order search engines to delist the sites from their indexes; ban advertising on suspected sites; and block payment services from processing transactions for accused sites.
“If the same standards were applied to U.S.-based sites, Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Google and Wired could all find themselves blocked.
“Such requests would need to be reviewed and approved by a judge. But accused sites would get little notice of a pending action in U.S. courts against them, and, once blacklisted, have little effective means of appeal.”
A full list of participants can be found at sopastrike.com. But what is SOPA and PIPA all about? And why is the internet banding together to protest against US law?
SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, while PIPA is the Protect IP Act. The two bills are similar in nature, aiming to stop or prevent the piracy of online copyrighted material on websites outside of the US.
As the Guardian writes: “SOPA would allow copyright holders to complain to the US attorney general about a foreign website they allege is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations” of copyright law. This relates mostly to pirated movies and music. Sopa would allow the movie industry, through the courts and the US attorney general, to send a slew of demands that internet service providers (ISPs) and search engine companies shut down access to those alleged violators, and even to prevent linking to those sites, thus making them “unfindable”. It would also bar internet advertising providers from making payments to websites accused of copyright violations.Sopa could, then, shut down a community-based site like YouTube if just one of its millions of users was accused of violating one US copyright.”
The US bills are an attempt to expand the US federal government’s power to impact the internet. Protestors have pointed out that the two anti-piracy bills are essentially allowing censorship of the internet, a move which is not in keeping with the notion of democracy.
Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:
“These bills propose new powers for the government and for private actors to create, effectively, blacklists of sites … then force service providers to block access to those sites. That’s why we call these the censorship bills.”
EFF’s McSherry also defiantly stated that “no one asked the internet – well, the internet is speaking now. People are really rising up and saying: ‘Don’t interfere with basic Internet infrastructure. We won’t stand for it.’”
It seems as if support for SOPA is withdrawing, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. An anti-piracy could still be rushed through Congress.
Chris Dodd, former senator and chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), slammed Wikipedia and others protest plans, calling them “dangerous” and a “gimmick”. He called on Congress to engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy. A vote on Pipa is still expected in the senate on January 24.