Procrastinating college students, you have been forewarned: do not wait until January 18th to finish your research papers.
A growing list of internet powerhouses including WikiPedia, Reddit, Craigslist, Mozilla, and WordPress, are coordinating an online protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act. Thousands of sites are already displaying an alert bulletin about SOPA and PROTECT IP, and starting at midnight on January 18th, many sites will display a message about the bills in lieu of their regular content.
SOPA and PROTECT IP are United States legislation designed to give the Department of Justice the ability to pursue and shut down websites that are believed to be involved in illegal activities. Opponents say that the overreaching nature of the bills will place an unreasonable burden on legitimate websites, inhibit free speech, and cripple innovation, all while failing to impact the illegal activity it was designed to prevent. Search engines would be forced to block rogue sites when notified of potentially illegal content, and could also be punished for unknowingly linking to illegal content. Hosting providers, social networks, and content aggregators would be required to constantly review the data their users place on their sites and servers, or face being charged as an accessory to piracy. As Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing wrote,
“Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages. … If we failed to take this precaution, our finances could be frozen, our ad broker forced to pull ads from our site, and depending on which version of the bill goes to the vote, our domains confiscated, and, because our server is in Canada, our IP address would be added to a US-wide blacklist that every ISP in the country would be required to censor.”
After weeks of pressure from tech giants like Microsoft and Google, the White House has indicated it will not the support the bills as they are currently written. However, most sites involved in the protest say the fight is far from over. Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the WikiMedia Foundation, hopes that their blackout will raise awareness of a larger issue. Gardner states,
“The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.”
For a complete list of sites going dark on January 18th, visit SOPA Strike.