Users of several popular websites, including Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing, are likely to find those sites "blacked out" today in protest against proposed federal legislation intended to thwart online piracy.
Administrators of dozens of websites have vowed to participate in a 24-hour blackout, which was scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. Tuesday in Arizona.
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia had a banner posted at the top of its English-language site Tuesday to let users know about the blackout and its reason for participating: "to protest SOPA and PIPA."
The two bills -- the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act -- are aimed at stopping foreign online criminals from selling copies of copyrighted American-made products, technology, music, movies and other entertainment to consumers throughout the world, which is considered a form of theft.
If passed into law, the bills could authorize U.S. authorities to employ a variety of tactics, including forcing an Internet- services provider to block user access to a site posting pirated content; requiring a search engine such as Google to filter out search results from the offending website; and prohibiting any U.S. website from accepting advertising from a site that has been determined to use stolen content.
Currently, Internet anti-piracy laws are aimed specifically at offending sites but do not restrict other websites' ability to link to those sites.
A number of high-profile Internet companies, including Google, Twitter, Facebook and eBay, have voiced opposition to the bills in an open letter to Congress. They say the proposed legislation, if passed as written, would hurt legitimate websites acting in good faith to keep themselves free of copyright-infringing content.
The bills also would hurt the U.S. economy, they say, by stifling innovation and job growth on the Web.
The open letter says SOPA and PIPA threaten the safe harbor established more than a decade ago by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for Internet companies that proceed in good faith to remove infringing content from their sites.
The safe-harbor agreement specifies that websites making a good-faith effort to delete copyrighted materials posted by individual users should not be sued for committing piracy.
"Since their enactment in 1998, the DMCA's safe-harbor provisions for online-service providers have been a cornerstone of the U.S. Internet and technology industry's growth and success," the letter states.
Although Google, Twitter, Facebook and eBay were among the letter's signatories, none of those companies said it was planning to black out its websites or online services today.
Scottsdale-based domain-name registrar and Web-hosting firm Go Daddy was an early supporter of the bills but has since changed its stance after an organized effort by opponents of the bills to boycott the company.
SOPA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in October by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Similar bill PIPA was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in the Senate.
The two bills have many powerful supporters, including trade groups representing record producers, musicians, film actors and directors.
SOPA is supported by more than 120 businesses, unions and associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Sheriffs' Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the AFL-CIO, the National Songwriters Association, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, Comcast/NBC Universal and the National Center for Victims of Crime.
"The Stop Online Piracy Act cuts off the flow of revenue to these foreign illegal sites and makes it harder for online criminals to market and distribute illegal products to U.S. consumers," its sponsor, Smith, said in a statement last week.
"The bill maintains provisions that 'follow the money' and cut off the main sources of revenue to foreign illegal sites. It also continues to protect consumers from being directed to foreign illegal websites by search engines. And it provides innovators with a way to bring claims against foreign illegal sites that steal and sell their technology, products and intellectual property."
Smith announced Friday that he plans to remove a controversial provision that requires Internet-service providers to block access to certain foreign websites.
That provision, to require what's known as Domain Name System blocking, has enraged many Web-based businesses, which have noted that DNS blocking is a primary means by which foreign governments censor legitimate websites.
Leahy, who introduced the similar PIPA bill, also said last week that he would recommend further study of the impacts of that provision. However, Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, still urged the Senate to move forward with debate on the bill next week.
A vote to allow debate on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.
"Saying no to debating (the bill) hurts the economy," Leahy said in a statement Friday. "It says no to the American workers whose livelihoods depend on intellectual property-reliant businesses. And it says yes to the criminals hiding overseas stealing American intellectual property and selling it back to American consumers."
Even if the controversial DNS-blocking provision is removed, the legislation remains deeply flawed, said Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
"This DNS blocking was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the broad range of real problems with the approach of SOPA and PIPA," Black said in a written statement. "The DNS blocking was easy to understand and remove. Those who value the functioning of the Internet and the jobs that depend on it should now focus on the provisions of the legislation that still cause much collateral damage to the Internet."
Ultimately, the legislation would be ineffective at stopping the worst online pirates while potentially undermining U.S. efforts to strengthen cybersecurity, Black said.
Though there is bipartisan support for the bills in Congress, there also is some bipartisan opposition. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, recently attended a news conference in Las Vegas along with the president of the Consumer Electronics Association to voice their opposition to the legislation.
Wyden has vowed to filibuster the Senate bill, if necessary, while Issa plans to hold hearings on the legislation to present what he called more balanced testimony. The two also have unveiled alternative legislation that is far narrower in scope.
Meanwhile, the White House released a statement Friday that appeared to signal possible opposition to the online piracy bills.
The statement said the White House "will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."
With elections approaching, it now appears increasingly unlikely that the controversial bills will become law, at least without major changes.
MORE ON THIS TOPIC
SOPA and PIPA
What are they? The Stop Online Piracy Act (introduced in the House of Representatives) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (Senate) aim to stop the sale of copyrighted U.S. entertainment online.
Why the boycott? Sites such as Google and Twitter say the bills' proposed restrictions would hurt legitimate sites.
by J. Craig Anderson and Erin Kelly The Republic | azcentral.com Jan. 17, 2012 10:43 PM
Regulations considered by Congress lead prominent sites to shut down for a day
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