Largest internet protest in history halts bill in protest

SOPA/PIPA: Politicians Log Online
In opposition to two bills in Congress, Wikipedia, Google, and other sites “went dark” on January 18. Notably, Wikipedia blocked their entire English-language site using Javascript and Reddit took their site down for 12 hours. Google’s logo was hidden behind a black censor bar that linked to a page with information about the bills.

Due in part to an outpouring of opposition from users reacting to the blackout, votes for the bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), have been indefinitely postponed.

Both bills are intended to provide stronger anti-piracy laws, attempting to give the US greater jurisdiction over sites based outside of the country which stream copyrighted material or otherwise actively pirate copyrighted material or intellectual property. SOPA allows for greater criminal punishment for copyright violators, and allows for court orders against sites thought to be responsible for or engaging in copyright violation, even if these sites are outside US jurisdiction.

These court orders could range from stopping advertisers and other providers of revenue from supporting sites found in violation of copyright law, to preventing search engines from displaying links to the site in question and forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to the site.

PIPA provides similar consequences for sites found infringing upon copyright laws, also requiring nonauthoritative domain name servers to block links and take similar actions to halt normal access to the site. The bills are intended to protect both intellectual property from online piracy and consumers from counterfeit drugs often sold online. Many of the bills’ main supporters are in from the entertainment and pharmaceutical industries.

Major companies and minor sites alike have taken an anti-SOPA/PIPA stance, including Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, Mozilla Corporation, and Reddit, along with several human rights organizations, such as Reporters Without Borders, the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch. Many of these organizations have expressed agreement with the anti-piracy sentiment of the bills, but believe that the wording and the methods of the current propositions are too vague and harmful to the Internet for them to support.

The outcry against the bill has been large enough that many companies and people targeted by opposition sites actually have dropped their support of the bills. In fact, on January 14, the Obama administration responded to two of the online petitions against SOPA and PIPA by saying that it would not support “legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” though it recognized the problem of online piracy and urged “all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year.”

Denizens of the Internet have much effort put into opposing these bills. Many set up sites summarizing SOPA and PIPA and explaining the damage they believe the bills can do to the Internet. Others have spread sites that allow people to look up the contact information of their representatives. Some of these sites help users to send a letter to their Congressional representatives through the site. Several sites have popped up asking visitors to pledge not to support specific companies, organizations, and politicians who support the bills.

Several websites and organizations increased their encouragement for others to support the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN Act), which is a bill proposed as an alternative to SOPA/PIPA and was introduced to the Senate by Senator Ron Wyden with co-sponsors Jerry Moran and Maria Cantwell on December 17, 2011, and by Representative Darrell Issa and 25 co-sponsors on January 18, 2012. The OPEN Act favors a more economic-focused approach to anti-piracy, with intentions to stop people from being able to give infringing sites money, and proposes to give the United States International Trade Commission, rather than the US Justice Department, the responsibility of enforcing this law.

On Friday, January 20, Representative Lamar Smith announced that plans to draft the bill had been postponed “…until there is wider agreement on a solution.” On the same day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the vote on PIPA was to be postponed.
Much of the online resistance remains active, however, as many sites and organizations point out that postponing the bills does not equate to getting rid of them. Hence, many sites continue to host links to anti-SOPA/PIPA sites and claim they will continue to protest until a more agreeable, practical, and fair solution is reached.

SOPA was introduced to the US House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by Texas Representative Lamar Smith. PIPA, a similar bill, was introduced to the Senate on May 12, 2011, by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, and is a re-written version of the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), a bill which Leahy introduced in 2010, but was unable to gain enough support to pass into law.

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