The internet is dark today, as many popular websites have blacked out their homepages in protest of two extremely restrictive anti-piracy bills currently working their way through the United States Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) could significantly change the way the internet operates, legal scholars and technology experts have warned.
In light of this, major websites like Wikipedia, Wired, WordPress, Imgur, Reddit, dotSub and even Google and Mozilla have agreed to take part in a form of passive protest. For 12 to 24 hours, a vast number of sites have turned out their lights, replacing all or part of their websites with an explanation and a cry to arms, encouraging users to contact their local representatives and make their voices heard about SOPA/PIPA if they don’t like having their internet censored.
It’s no coincidence that many of these websites are built around user communities: under SOPA/PIPA, collaborative sites will be held responsible for anything their users choose to share. They will have to censor users or face the risk of being shut down by the entertainment industry if unlicensed material pops up somewhere on their service. Sites that operate outside U.S. jurisdiction, meanwhile, can be completely cut off, as ISPs will be ordered to block access to that domain name, denying American users the right to so much as visit the website.
Along with blacking out their pages, many websites have also provided detailed information about the proposed bills and why they are taking a stand against it, such as this blog post from the Wikimedia Foundation, this article from Wired, and the above video.
There are also a number of tools to make it easy for people to contact Congress and make their voices heard, such as this form at SOPAstrike.com, or this one from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If you’re outside of the U.S., this form encourages you to contact the State Department via email.