On January 18, Wikipedia frequenters wailed with grief as the popular online encyclopedia’s English-language site engaged in a 24-hour shutdown. Called a “blackout,” the website’s actions protested the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, first initiated last October) and its Senate equivalent, the Protect IP Act (PIPA, introduced last May). Thousands of other websites also participated, including Reddit, Craigslist and ICanHazCheezburger.com.
Though Google did not shut down like Wikipedia, it put a black censor bar over its logo. When clicked, the bar directed users to a petition asking Congress to stop considering the bills. Wikipedia provided a similar service, allowing users to enter in their zip codes and acquire contact information for their senators and representatives.
On their blacked-out homepage, Wikipedia offered its reasons for fighting so adamantly against SOPA. “SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites,” it said. “Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. SOPA and PIPA would build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.”
Many agree. People who oppose the bills, especially free speech advocates and those whose careers depend on the Internet, fear that SOPA gives too much power to the Department of Justice and copyright holders. SOPA opponents cite loopholes that could potentially allow corporations and the government to take down domestic websites without a trial, censor material that doesn’t violate copyright laws and punish entire websites if a user posts pirated content.
Merely hours into the blackouts, several congressional and corporate supporters of SOPA and PIPA withdrew their favor. Said former PIPA cosponsor and Florida senator Marco Rubio on his Facebook page, “Earlier this year, this bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and without controversy. Since then, we’ve heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet. Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.”
Meanwhile, the bills still retain support from the music and film industries, since illegal downloading can be detrimental to their profits. Congressional supporters of SOPA and PIPA say the bills are an important step towards preventing American products from being pirated overseas. MPAA president Chris Dodd released a statement on Tuesday condemning the blackouts.
Further discussion on SOPA in the House of Representative is tentatively scheduled for sometime in February. PIPA is set to face a vote sometime in February.
A full-text version of the bill is available here.