In a remarkable example of a grassroots campaign gone viral, several websites including Google, Reddit, Wikipedia , BoingBoing, Imgur and Tucows, are planning an unprecedented Internet "strike" Wednesday to protest controversial anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress.
Many of the sites plan to go completely dark on Jan 18 to show opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Google will not go dark, but plans to note its opposition by sticking a protest link 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," Google said in a statement. "So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page."
According to Fight for the Future, one of the groups organizing the protests, nearly 12,000 websites have said they will join the blackout. That number is still growing.
The planned strike prompted a sharp response from at least one major supporter of the legislation. In a statement Tuesday, former Sen. Chris Dodd, now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), blasted the so-called Internet Blackout Day.
"It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information," Dodd said. "It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.
Dodd pointed to comments from the White House last week about concerns over the two bills and called for cooperation between all stakeholders.
"Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents..., some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users," Dodd said in the statement.
Both SOPA and PIPA are aimed at giving copyright and IP owners more tools to go after foreign sites they claim are dedicated to the theft and sale of U.S. goods, music, video and other material. SOPA is being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives; PIPA is under consideration in the U.S. Senate.
Opponents argue that the bills will give content and IP owners too much power to go after websites they decide are infringing on their rights. Though the bills are ostensibly targeted only at foreign websites, critics contend that legitimate U.S. websites will inevitably be forced to undertake costly and impractical monitoring of their sites to ensure compliance with SOPA and PIPA.
Many contend that the provisions in the bills will enable a sort of Internet censorship and prior restraint on free speech, though supporters have insisted that such criticisms are overblown ( download PDF ).
Concern about the bills has been simmering for weeks and appears to have boiled over in the last few days. Late last week, Reddit announced that it would black out its site for 12 hours on Wednesday to express opposition to the measures.
The company was soon joined by Wikipedia, which said it would black out its site all day Wednesday. Numerous other sites then adopted the same plans.
Tiffiniy Chen, a co-founder of Fight for the Future, said protests against the bills is now so widespread "it is in many ways beyond us."
The organization's Sopastrike.com site offers various tips and links designed to make it easier for Website owners to participate in the strike or to register their protest with elected officials. "I'm not surprised at the response," Cheng said today. "These bills are extremely disrespectful to how the Internet works."
Garlin Gilchrist II, national campaign director for MoveOn.Org , another site that will go black tomorrow, said that so far more than 240,000 MoveOn members have signed petitions expressing their opposition to SOPA and PIPA.
"The bills are incredibly problematic, both as intended and as designed," Gilchrist said.
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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