SOPA Blackout: Most Popular Websites Protest Against Two Piracy Bills

Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and other popular websites converted their homepages into virtual protest banners early Wednesday as part of an effort to stop Internet piracy legislation that is being considered by the U.S. Congress.

A screengrab of Wikipedia's home page on Wednesday, which warned users that the Web site would be blacked out for 24 hours. Photo: Wikipedia

Encyclopedia giant Wikipedia, popular news-sharing site reddit, browser pioneer Mozilla, photo-sharing favorite Twitpic and even ICanHazCheezburger.com are blocking access to content throughout Wednesday, symbolizing what the bill may allow content creators to do to sites they accuse of copyright infringement, reports The Huff Post.

Other websites, including Google, are expressing solidarity with the protests by featuring anti-SOPA content on home pages.

Despite the likes of Twitter chief, Dick Costolo, refusing to shut down its global operation out of protest against the same act yesterday, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, has defended the move to The Telegraph.

He said: “The general sentiment seemed to be that US law, as it impacts the internet, can affect everyone.

“As for me, what I am hoping is that people outside the US who have friends or family who are voters in the US, will ask them to make a call to their senator or representative, and I hope we send a broad global message that the internet as a whole will not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement.”

The English version the website will be inaccessible from 5AM GMT on Wednesday until 5AM GMT on Thursday, he wrote on Twitter. Instead of a database of more than 3.8 million articles, visitors will be greeted by an open letter encouraging them to contact Congress in protest.

The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, are backed by major media companies and are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online.

But the tech industry fears that, among other things, they will give media companies too much power to shut down sites that they say are abusing copyrights.

Under the proposed legislation, if a copyright holder like Warner Brothers discovers that a foreign site is focused on offering illegal copies of songs or movies, it could seek a court order that would require search engines like Google to remove links to the site and require advertising companies to cut off payments to it.

Reddit general manager Erik Martin worked for an independent film production firm prior to joining the tech world, and frequently received bogus requests to remove his company’s material from YouTube.

“We would get a lot of erroneous . . . takedown notices, even on our own trailers for our own films put up on YouTube, because keywords would match,” Martin said on a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “Especially when companies are using automated tools — it’s a script, and human beings aren’t even looking at this — the potential for abuse [under Protect IP and SOPA] is huge.”

The online protests are being joined by a physical demonstration in New York City, where thousands of representatives from the city’s tech industry plan to demonstrate outside the offices of Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.),co-sponsors of the Senate version of SOPA, beginning at 12:30 p.m. As pressure has mounted, both have expressed willingness to compromise.

According to The New York Times, on Friday the White House said it would not approve key parts of the bills, however, effectively sending them back to the drawing board. A statement from President Obama’s internet advisors said the provisions for blocking foreign websites “pose a real risk to cybersecurity”.

“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” a White House spokesman said.

Internet companies say they support current law, which requires Web sites with copyright-infringing content to take it down if copyright holders ask them to, leaving the rest of the site intact. Google, which owns YouTube and other sites, received five million requests to remove content or links last year, and it says it acts in less than six hours if it determines that the request is legitimate.

On Saturday, the Obama administration announced its opposition to the bill. Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said on Sunday that he still plans a vote.

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