MANHATTAN (CN) – Wikipedia and other high-traffic websites are dark today to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would allow the U.S. government to shut down websites suspected of copyright infringement.
Google, which did not shut down its search engine, joined the protest by censoring its logo with electronic black tape.
As explained by Popular Mechanics contributor Adam Savage, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)’s provisions “allow for the wholesale elimination of entire websites, domain names, and chunks of the DNS (the underlying structure of the whole Internet), based on nothing more than the ‘good faith’ assertion by a single party that the website is infringing on a copyright of the complainant. The accused doesn’t even have to be aware that the complaint has been made.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation stated that the bill and its sister legislation, the Protect IP Act, could invite “blacklists” that threaten free speech on the Internet under the pretext of fighting piracy.
The White House on Saturday responded to two online petitions, and the explosion of outrage over the bill, with a statement that the Obama administration opposed SOPA in its current form.
“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,” the White House said in its statement.
It added: “We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet.”
The Motion Picture Association of American, Recording Industry Association of America, and major media companies which support the bill claim it is needed to protect their businesses from copyright infringement.
ABC, CBS, Comcast/NBCUniversal (which owns MSNBC and NBC News), Viacom (CBS), News Corporation (Fox News), Time Warner (CNN), and Disney Publishing Worldwide largely have blacked out discussion of SOPA from their television news cycles, according to the watchdog group Media Matters.
The White House statement left the door open for these companies to seek different legislation to address their concerns.
“Let us be clear – online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs,” the White House statement said. “That is why the administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined above in this response.”
Although SOPA had bipartisan support, the Obama administration’s stated opposition to it caused Congress to set it aside this month, but that has not calmed fears that SOPA still threatens Internet freedom.
Days after the statement was delivered, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) blasted the “retreat” from the bill, which he pledged to reintroduce in February.
“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February,” Smith said, according to Techdirt and other publications.
The Wikipedia website today states: “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge. For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. 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.”
Instructions on how to contact elected officials follow the announcement.
The Telegraph, an English newspaper, estimates that 100 million English-speaking people use Wikipedia each day.
Reddit, a social news website, blacked itself out at 7 a.m. EST today.
Moveon.org also took itself offline.