SOPA and PIPA bills prompt black outs: Will it matter?
UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ben Quayle, and other sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) have withdrawn their sponsorship of their controversial bills. PIPA’s Rubio announced his move on his Facebook page, writing, “As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs. However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies … Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.” Rubio wrote he hoped others follow suit, and some — like Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Orrin Hatch, have indeed voiced they have pulled their support of the bills.
EARLIER: It’s been lights out for some of the Internet’s most visited and vital websites today. Taking a stand against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), websites like the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist, and Boing Boing are among some of the major sites that have gone dark today (Google, Mozilla, Wired, WordPress, and even Lolcats have blocked out certain portions of their website and put up anti-SOPA statements) to protest the controversial bills. For the uninitiated, if these bills were to pass, they would make service providers and search engines block websites that link to copyrighted materials. Critics of the legislation say it has the potential to alter the way business is conducted on the Internet and bring about unwanted censorship and regulations. (While major social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have not joined the blackout, many of their users have been vocal about the cause.)
But how much will this movement affect Congress’ decision? Politicians rallying against SOPA and PIPA, including Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, have been vocal about their opposition to the bills. (Ryan released a statement on this website claiming the bills create “the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.”) Among others opposed to the bills are Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who tweeted, “I’m going to vote NO on #PIPA and #SOPA. The Internet is too important to our economy” on Tuesday afternoon, and California Congressman Darrell Issa — who is behind the OPEN Act, which set in motion to keep an “open Internet” for Americans — who posted a letter on his Twitter from 83 Internet inventors and engineers to Congress urging them to halt the bills which would “destroy web DNS [domain name system] as we know it.”
But will their support of the anti-SOPA movement be enough? According to ProPublica’s watchdog SOPA Opera, SOPA — which was introduced by Texas Congressman Lamar Smith — and PIPA currently have 80 supporters, while only 31 oppose the legislation. And the bills’ main advocate once sat in Congress: Former Connecticut Senator and Chief Executive of the Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd, who called the blackout a “stunt” and a “gimmick … designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”
So which side will be victorious? Well, it very well come down to the people of the United States of America. EW spoke with Alex Howard, the Washington correspondent for media group O’Reilly Radar (which also went dark today), who said outraged Internet users concerned about security and privacy have a chance to make a difference. “If done correctly, this kind of activism can have a real impact because the thing that representatives and senators are supposed to pay attention to, more than anything else — not lobbyists, not contributions, not broadcasts — is the wishes of their constituents,” he says.
And those constituents have more than likely been made aware of the anti-SOPA sentiments during today’s blackout while attempting to log onto sites participating in the movement. In fact, Howard estimates that today’s “unprecedented” blackout could affect nearly 25 million people on that site alone, in addition to the tens of millions of daily users that Google and Craigslist have. And sites are making sure all those people are informed: O’Reilly Radar and others, like Mozilla, have put up information and statements for its users regarding the bills and what everyday citizens can do to fight them. Howard, who told EW that O’Reilly Radar made a collective decision to join other websites in the blackout to “speak up for ‘open Internet,'” says this inclusion of information was an imperative move for websites, since the controversy surrounding SOPA and PIPA has been largely ignored by the television news media up to this point. “Internet websites are using what they have, their relationship with users, many of whom are fiercely devoted to them to educate them and tell them about something that is very important to them,” he says.
So now, it’s in your hands, readers. “I think that people will absolutely act,” Howard. “The precedent was set for this when Tumblr decided to do something similar back in November when they converted one of their pages. It resulted in tens of thousands to calls to Washington, so sites like Wikipedia and Reddit [participating] are going to result in more contact. We will definitely see an offline outcome from this online action.”