Internet Blackout Day Starts in Protest Against PIPA and SOPA

Today, Wednesday January 18 2012, is Internet Blackout Day, a movement which has caught the attention of the world’s media, that aims to raise awareness of legislation known as PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and how this legislation is a threat to online privacy, threatens freedom of speech, and hampers Internet innovation.

Scores of websites from personal blogs to big sites like Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit, Tucows, and BoingBoing have joined the campaingn to protest against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out their websites for 24 hours. Today’s visitors to the English Wikipedia site will be presented with messages intended to raise awareness about the proposed legislation, and encouraging them to share their views with their elected representatives, and via social media.

So what is the problem? In a nutshell it is Hollywood versus people downloading films and music for free. These big media companies and their allies in Congress are billing the legislation as a new way to battle online copyright infringement. But it will do little to stop infringement online. What it will do is compromise online privacy and inhibit online expression.

Under the proposed legislation government and private parties would be granted unprecedented power to interfere with the Internet’s underlying infrastructure. The government would be able to force ISPs and search engines to block users’ attempts to reach certain websites. But the USA doesn’t own the Internet, it is global. As Tucows wrote on their site “a ‘Made in the USA’ solution will no more work to stop the problems talked of than would one made in any other single nation state. Worse, the US has been at the forefront of ensuring that the Internet has remained free and a platform for innovation for the last fifteen years.” Even the White House has stated that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

First Amendment expert Marvin Ammori points out, “The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for anti-circumvention so they are not subject to court actions ‘enjoining’ them from continuing to provide ‘such product or service.” And according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF), venture capitalists have said en masse they won’t invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass.

Under PIPA the government will have the power to make US Internet providers block access to infringing domain names as well as have the ability to sue US-based search engines, directories, or even blogs and forums, to have links to these sites removed. To the wrong judge (one who probably hasn’t even used the Internet), innovative sites like Tumblr, SoundCloud, even YouTube in its early days, could be seen as piracy heavens because mixed in with the self expression, art and calls for freedom of speech will be TV footage, movie clips and music.

The recent social uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya all used the Internet and social media to allow citizen to speak out against injustice. If the US passes laws like SOPA and PIPA then it looses any right to criticize freedom of speech in other countries and it provides a model for unscrupulous governments to adopt similar laws and hinder free expression.

Please take action by contacting Congress through the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s action center. It only takes a moment and it can make a big difference.

Other sites of interest are: http://americancensorship.org/ and http://fightforthefuture.org/pipa/.

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