Online publishers large and small have gone dark today to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act currently pending in Congress. Declared the “Web Goes on Strike” day by Fight for the Future, sites such as Wikipedia and hyperlocal city directories like City View have gone dark. Google has placed a black banner over its logo and included a link “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web.”
As originally reported on Street Fight, the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act give content owners broad remedies to have search engines, social networks, ad networks, and domain name services block access to Web sites on grounds that a site is infringing. As Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Freedom Foundation told Street Fight, hyperlocal news sites would vulnerable under SOPA “particularly if they incorporate user generated content.”
The non-profit Fight for the Future called SOPA and the PROTECT-IP Act “internet censorship bills” and urged web sites to join “the largest online protest in history” by “blacking out your site and urging everyone you can reach to contact congress now.” Ms. Jeschke told Street Fight today “SOPA and PIPA will unconstitutionally silence legitimate speech, allowing the entertainment industry to shut down sites with mere accusations of infringement, and without real due process. This threatens innovation, competition, and free speech.”
Fight for the Future listed more than 100 publishers who have committee to participate in the protest. Publishers staged their protests in various ways. Wikipedia blacked-out its entire homepage and posted: “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”
Fight for the Future listedmore than 100 publishers who have committee to participate in the protest.
The local news site City View joined in the protest, posting on its home page: “our web-company City View has gone on strike to stop the Web Censorship Bills in Congress.” Vox Media, which operates hyperlocal sports sites through its SBNation service, told Street Fight that “SBNation officially opposes SOPA.” [disclosure: I do occasional legal work for SBNation] In a statement published today on SBNation, editor Chris Mottram said “Although the legislation purports to target only so-called foreign pirate sites and not US-based sites or those that end in .com, .net, or .org, there is a very real possibility that (over)reaction to the legislation would catch more than a few U.S.-based .com sites in its crosshairs.”
In an interview with Street Fight, Tina Paparone of Happeningsmedia.com, a hyperlocal news magazine organization, calls SOPA “a threat to freedom which allows capitalism to thrive in America.”
“To place such strict controls on the Internet is no less threatening than placing those controls on freedom of speech as a whole,” Paparone added. “Imagine a society in which a business or person could be removed, face fines, and serve jail time for quoting a movie or singing a popular song. We’re just beginning to tap into the incredible power of the Internet — improved resources, targeted services, the seamless sharing of information around the world – and all of that progress hinges on our ability to stop SOPA from passing.”
Over the weekend, the White House expressed its lack of enthusiasm for SOPA and PROTECT-IP, posting on its We the People site: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
The Motion Picture Association of America, a major supporter of the anti-piracy bills, called the blackout a “gimmick.” In a press release issued by the MPAA on January 17, 2012, former senator Chris Dodd declared in a statement that the “so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.” The MPAA reasserted its support of SOPA and the PROTECT-IP Act, pointing out “neither of these bills implicate free expression but focus solely on illegal conduct, which is not free speech.”
“It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy,” Dodd, the CEO of the MPAA, concluded in his statement.
House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), one of the key sponsors of SOPA, announced on January 13, 2012 that he plans to remove provisions in SOPA that require internet service providers to block access to certain foreign web sites. Rep. Smithadded in a statement “after consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.”
Brian Dengler is an attorney with Vorys Legal Counsel and journalist who covers legal issues in eMedia. He is a former vice-president of AOL, Inc., a former newspaperman, and an EMMY-winning TV journalist. He teaches new media issues as an adjunct at Kent State University and formerly at Otterbein University.