Generally ignored by the mainstream media, January 18th, today, has informally become a day of protest against SOPA and PIPA, two anti-piracy bills being considered in the US Congress.
The bills, if passed, would allow the US government to stop, cripple or shut down websites that are accused of copyright infringement, regardless of their country of origin. Upon accusation, the government would be allowed to bar advertisers from making payments to the infringer’s site, stop search engines from linking to the infringer’s site and order the site’s host to shut the site down. All of this can be done without trial or notice.
The bill is backed by a large number of US Congressmen, most of whom, according to popular opinion, are aware of what the internet is but are unable to go into specifics. Older generations simply don’t understand the internet culture and are trying to do away with piracy the only way they can think of. As a result, the bills are unclearly worded and leave much to interpretation.
The sensationalist view of SOPA is that it will shut the internet down: Any blog hosting a copyrighted material could shut down WordPress – anybody posting karaoke could lead to YouTube being shut down – one twitter link to a banned page could mean the permanent presence of the fail whale.
Obviously this is all moot. The government, while imperfect, is not foolish. Although SOPA would give the US government the power to shut down websites, we can trust that Facebook won’t disappear overnight.
Some protesters are not taking chances. They feel that the US government has other means of targeting piracy. On January 18th, English Wikipedia will be blacked out, Reddit will go offline for 12 hours and Google will be using its home page to help bring attention to the bills that could potentially change the internet that we know and love.