The blackout movement to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act that began with reddit and Wikipedia… spread to more than 10,000 other websites, many of which are important examples of Web entities that could be shut down without due process by SOPA-like legislation.
The Senate bill and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House are backed by the movie and music industries as a means to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods by non-U.S. websites. Hollywood studios want lawmakers to ensure that Internet companies such as Google share responsibility for curbing the distribution of pirated films and television shows. But opponents say that the way SOPA is written effectively promotes censorship and is rife with the potential for unintended consequences.
Three of the Internet’s most popular destinations–Google, Wikipedia, and Craigslist–launched an audacious experiment in political activism … by urging their users to protest [the] Hollywood-backed copyright laws. Google … put a black censorship bar over the logo on its home page. “Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” [a] Google spokeswoman told CNET. Wikipedia went black as midnight struck the East Coast [and urged users to] take action now by calling your US Representative and Senators. “This is going to be wow,” Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said on Twitter. “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”
Craigslist [greeted users] with a black page and information regarding sopa/pipa asking visitors to “imagine a world without craigslist, Google, Wikipedia” [and] provid[ed] visitors with a link to a page with online tools for contacting lawmakers to voice opposition to the Hollywood-backed legislation, adding: “P.S. corporate paymasters: KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET.” The SOPA landing page display[ed] for a minimum of 10 seconds, after which you [could] continue on to the normal Craigslist site.
Other sites joining the protest included WordPress, TwitPic, Cheezburger, BoingBoing, several gaming companies including Minecraft, and Mozilla, source of the Firefox web browser. Online photo sharing site Flickr [let] its members darken their own photos in an effort to raise awareness about the proposed, highly damaging legislation. But that’s not all–Flickr is going a step further, and will allow users to darken other members’ photos, too. Now that’s what censorship really feels like. [Wired] blacked out the headlines on [its] website homepage today as part of a global internet protest. Mark Zuckerberg… the celebrity Facebook founder… is using the best tool at his disposal: the social network he created. “The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet’s development,” Zuckerberg wrote in a note posted to Facebook. “Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.”
For Zachary Johnson, a creative developer, working in web, games, and mobile, [partial blackouts] wasn’t good enough… He developed a code that… turns users’ cursors into digital flashlights that illuminate an anti-SOPA message and a link to AmericanCensorship.org. Not only does the program serve an important function for anyone wanting to protest, but from a design standpoint, it has the added bonus of looking pretty cool. Meanwhile a cartoonist asks: “What Goes On When the Net Goes Dark?”
The Internet community’s rally cry against anti-piracy legislation is triggering its intended effect, though the final outcome remains far from settled. By now, about the only people unaware of the bill are those on camping trips in the wilderness. You know the protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has gone mainstream when the headline of the Drudge Report [read], “Hands Off the Internet!“
Members of Congress, many of whom are grappling with the issues posed by the explosion in new media and social Web sites, appeared caught off guard by the enmity toward what had been a relatively obscure piece of legislation to many of them. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were flooded with calls … in response to [the] online blackout by technology companies… Some key lawmakers who’ve supported or co-sponsored the legislation are also backing off. Eight U.S. lawmakers dropped their support for Hollywood-backed anti-piracy legislation as Google Inc. (GOOG), Facebook Inc. and other websites protested the measures.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew as a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act in the Senate, while Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said they were pulling their names from the companion House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Rubio tweeted, “After hearing from people with legit concerns, have withdraw support for #PIPA. Let’s take time to do it right” and provided a link to Facebook, where he wrote: “I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs. However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.” Hours after [the senator] pulled support of the anti-piracy bills, his website slowed to a crawl and crashed.
“Seems blogosphere has succeeded in terrorizing many senators and congressmen who previously committed,” Rupert Murdoch huffed in a tweet. “Politicians all the same.”
Last week, the White House issued its first official statement opposing the bill, stating that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” prompting Murdoch to tweet, “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”
Nevertheless, Murdoch isn’t the only critic. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), sponsor of SOPA, responded to Wikipedia going black: “It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.” And Dick Costello, CEO of Twitter, tweeted: “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”
The Financial Times weighed in: “Silicon Valley damages itself with its persistent scaremongering over efforts to crack down on piracy. By refusing to engage in a serious effort to prevent it – instead equating copyright enforcement with censorship, or with “breaking the internet”–it undermines its credibility.”
Meanwhile, there’s a new song for the soundtrack of angry, confused howls from users who can’t call up Wikipedia and Reddit, thanks to today’s blackout in protest of the proposed intellectual property legislation: [“The Day the LOLCats Died, sung to the melody of “American Pie”]:
Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at NYU and a contributing writer to Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @penenberg.
1. Peter Svensson, Chicago Sun-Times
2. Casey Johnston, Ars Technica
3. John Eggerton, Multichannel News
4. Eric Englman and Derek Wallbank, Bloomberg
5. Julianne Pepitone, CNNMoney
6. Declan McCullagh, CNET
7. Connor Adams Sheets, International Business Times
8. Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times
15. Sarah Perez, TechCrunch
16. Evan Hansen, Wired
17. Jennifer Van Grove, VentureBeat
18. Joe Berkowitz, Fast Co Create
19. The Joy of Tech
21. Will Oremus, Slate
22. Glenn Peoples, Billboard
23. Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times
24. USA Today
26. Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times
29. Orlando Sentinel
30. Mike Schuster, Minyanville
31. Taylor Hatmaker, Tecca
33. Nando Di Fino, Mediaite
36. Financial Times
37. Torie Bosch, Slate
[Image: Flickr user AN HONORABLE GERMAN]