Websites fade to black to protest piracy bills

The Internet is on strike today. Thousands of websites have taken themselves offline today to protest two U.S. anti-piracy bills that the American Congress is currently considering.

The Internet is on strike today.

Thousands of websites have taken themselves offline today to protest two U.S. anti-piracy bills that the American Congress is currently considering.

More than 11,000 websites have joined the blackout, according to Fight for the Future, one of the groups organizing the protest.

Among the most prominent is the blogging site, WordPress, and the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Those visiting Wikipedia’s English-language site today are greeted with a page of text explaining the site will be down for 24 hours in protest.

“Imagine a world without free knowledge,” reads the statement. “Right now the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.”

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, are making their way through the U.S. Congress and Senate, respectively.

The two bills grant the U.S. Justice Department new powers to combat online piracy.

Under the proposed legislation, copyright holders would be able to seek court orders against any site accused of “enabling or facilitating” piracy.

That would give the U.S. Justice Department the power to force Internet Service Providers to block access to foreign-based sites suspected of trafficking pirated and counterfeit goods. It would be able to order search engines to block infringing sites, ban advertising on those sites and force payment services to stop processing transactions.

“It’s a classic example of people who are writing legislation that just don’t get it,” said Rick Steele, the co-ordinator at the Technology Innovation Yukon Research Centre. “It’s criminalizing activities that needn’t be criminalized.”

The media lobby, which is trying to hold on to an antiquated business model, is driving this legislation, he said.

“These people haven’t figured out there is a new way of doing business, a whole new way of publishing and managing content,” said Steele. “If they were longshoremen, they would still want us to unload ships by hand.”

If the bills pass as they are, any website that depends on user-generated content, like YouTube and Wikipedia, would have to police those users to comply with the law. That’s likely impossible for larger sites, said Steele.

The debate over this bill has pitted new media against the old.

Advocates for traditional media argue this legislation is needed to combat “digital theft.”

“(It) will help American businesses and American workers by making it more difficult for operators of rogue websites, often based overseas, to steal American intellectual property,” wrote Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, on his blog.

But not everyone agrees.

“SOPA and PIPA will kill the rapidly growing jobs that the Internet brings,” said Ben Hue, CEO of the Cheezburger Network. It produces several popular, user-generated websites, including FAIL blog.

In addition, the legislation will be ineffective in combating online piracy, he said.

“It will only push counterfeiters and pirates deeper underground and undermine the safety of our Internet,” said Hue.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to start voting on PIPA on Jan. 24.

Though it is an American bill, Canadians should be concerned about how it plays out, said Steele.

“American legislation usually puts pressure on Canadian legislatures to follow suit,” he said. “The fact that it’s a bad idea is an American problem, but the fact that we tend to echo American bad ideas, that’s our problem.”

Contact Josh Kerr at

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