On Wednesday, January 18, Internet mainstays Wikipedia, Firefox, Google, Wired Magazine, Reddit, and others resisted government interference by partially or fully blacking out their websites. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia shut down all American access, displaying a full page black stylized announcement headlined, “Imagine A World Without Free Knowledge”. Reddit showed a black schemed home page urging site users to petition local lawmakers. The Reddit home page continued, stating that government purposed legislation would, “restrict innovation and threaten the existence of websites with user-submitted content.” The legislation that was addressed by these websites and individuals was an early attempt to deal with piracy of software, music, movies, and games by agencies not under American jurisdiction. It was widely felt the legislation contained some characteristics of censorship.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted, “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. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet.”
The bold moves by these online companies were met with at least temporary success, as the bills they were protesting were halted by the congress for further consideration.Since the blackout on Wednesday, many have agreed that the legislation in contention, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, that is, the PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA, were hastily considered, and indeed lawmakers needed time for further thought.
Co-drafter of the PIPA legislation, Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, “The day will come when the senators who [prematurely] forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem.” He continued, “Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy.”
Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who worked with Leahy on the PIPA Bill, continuing in its support, and his insistence that the issue be sustained to resolution, issued a statement that, “The committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.” Rep. Smith also said, “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
At the onset, both bills had bipartisan support and were heavily backed by the motion picture industry, the recording industry, and book publishers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce remains adamant that foreign and offshore web sites offering pirated software and digital applications for low prices, in violation of American copyright protection, must be stopped.
Wikipedia, Reddit, and the aforementioned internet companies have concerns that the bills in their present forms will hinder creativity, and force search engines and social media into the difficult and costly role of policing their vast sites for violations.