Over 10,000 websites took part on Wednesday in possibly the biggest online blackout in history to protest against two anti-copyright infringement bills, the US House of Representative’s Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Senators Marco Rubio, Roy Blunt and Jon Cornyn have withdrawn support from PIPA, along with Orrin Hatch and Ben Cardin. Fewer than 40 senators now support the bill and if more have been silently swayed by Wednesday’s protests, the bill could fail at the next vote, due on 24 January.
Meanwhile, in the House, Lee Terry, Ben Quayle, Tim Holden and Dennis Ross backed away from SOPA. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith has said that the bill will be revisted in February.
“[A]fter waves of negative sentiment toward the bill from free speech and civil rights groups, technology companies and others, Isom said, Terry has concluded that SOPA, as currently drafted, isn’t the solution.
Isom said Terry has long been an advocate of an open Internet, something that opponents think was threatened by SOPA.”
The SOPA Strike was kicked off by social link sharing site Reddit, which started the strike with their announcement that they would suspend their site on 18 January. Reddit blacked out not just their home page, but every single page on their site.
Google blacked out its logo for its American visitors and Wikipedia blacked out its English language site worldwide. The hugely popular ICanHasCheezburger Network, which includes the eponymous amusing cat picture blog ICanHasCheezburger as well as Failblog and Know Your Meme, also joined the strike. WordPress, which powers 15 percent of the top million websites, is made it easy for its users to blackout their own websites.
Popular gaming site MineCraft went with a red-out, simply saying “PIPA and SOPA? How about nopa?” Wired blacked out text and photos in the style of an old-fashioned censored telegraph. Photo-sharing site Flickr provided a way for users to darken selected photos in protest.
The hope that the protest would reach more people and prompt them to contact their Congresspersons was, according to the Wikimedia Foundation which runs Wikipedia, realised:
“Over the course of 24 hours on Wednesday, January 18, 2012, 162 million people experienced the Wikipedia blackout landing page — an unprecedented, historic shuttering of the largest repository of free knowledge in the world. More than 8 million U.S. readers looked up their Congressional representatives through Wikipedia to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) — proposed U.S. legislation that, if passed, will harm the free and open Internet.”
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), however, was dismayed with the strike. In a statement, Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the MPAA, said that the blackout was a “stunt”.
“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.
A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.
The MPAA has poured substantial sums of money into lobbying for tighter controls of copyrighted materials.
SOPA-writer Lamarr Smith was equally unimpressed, criticising Wikipedia in particular:
“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.”
Despite the fact that both SOPA and PIPA have been slightly watered down, specifically to remove the provision for DNS blocking, they still contain some potentially very damaging clauses. The strike has, however, decreased the support in the House and the Senate and increased general awareness of the issues. But we will really only know if it has succeeded when both acts have been through their next round of voting.