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Net Goes █████████ In Protest Today

Screencap of how en.wikipedia.org appears today (01/18/2012) during the internet protest of SOPA/PIPA

People attempting to access Wikipedia across Colorado and the US Wednesday morning were met with a dark screen. What gives? The massive user edited online encyclopedia has blocked US users from creating and reading its entries to protest the controversial SOPA/PIPA anti-piracy bills.

Many sites across the internet went dark in protest or noted their opposition of the bills Wednesday including Reddit, Flickr, Wired, and Boing Boing.

This is the most visible protest to date against the bills. SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) [ed. PDF link] was introduced by the House of Representatives in October. It attempts to crack down on sites that use copyrighted material, or host a place to trade or create pirated content.

PIPA (the Protect IP act) [ed. PDF link], is the counterpart bill in the Senate. It passed a Senate Committee with little notice in May. The bill is now pending a full Senate vote Next week.

What does this means for you? Some opponents say the bills casts a wide net over the internet and allows arbitrary censorship of sites accused of posting copyrighted material. The government could then block the accused site with no due process. Others say the bill could go as far as infringing on civil liberties.

For example, someone on the site YouTube uploads a popular song under copyright. The current law says the song’s owners could send a kind of ‘cease and desist’ order against the poster. YouTube would be protected from liability as long as the copyrighted content is removed in an adequate amount of time.

SOPA takes this one step further. It potentially could hold YouTube itself liable for user content, simply for ‘facilitating’ a place where users have the opportunity to upload copyrighted material.

This has the tech world very worried.

YouTube has millions of user published videos uploaded weekly. Site managers say the cost and manpower to ramp up the monitoring of YouTube and its uploads would be astronomical, and could make the site a thing of the past. Numerous other sites claim the same could happen to them.

Supporters of the bill, mainly Hollywood studios and music producers, say something needs to be done to combat piracy of their products, especially from websites overseas. Current law is inadequate in its response to overseas piracy, and they say the pending legislation updates the law and provides punishment to prevent illegal behavior.

The internet ‘black-out’ should be over by midnight Wednesday, with sites returning to normal use.

So far, the protest appears to be working. The bills, which were almost certain to pass with overwhelming support, now, are receiving a closer look in congress.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall has a message on his site about the bills. And the Denver Post is reporting Udall  Senator Michael Bennet, once a supporter of the bill, now says, “Three things that concern me is that it would kill free speech, it would kill innovation and undermine Internet security efforts.” While the Senate vote is scheduled by the 24th, there is a movement in the chamber to delay the vote and gather more public input. [Ed. note: the above quote from the Denver Post was incorrectly attributed to Senator Michael Bennett. It has since been corrected.]

Here are some more screencaps of how several sites appear today during the blackout.

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  • SOPA and PIPA (no, they're not the Duchess of Cambridge's sisters) will be on the minds of a lot more people Wednesday because of the online protests by Wikipedia, Google and other popular websites over anti-piracy legislation under consideration by Congress.
  • Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing are among the popular websites that will be dark Wednesday to protest a pair of bills making their way through Congress. Hollywood studios say tougher rules are needed to protect their intellectual property from online piracy. But Silicon Valley companies say the bills would encourage censorship and harm innovation.
  • While the site's English pages have been "blacked out," it's offering a workaround — including access via mobile devices. Wikipedia and other sites are protesting pending anti-online piracy legislation that they say goes too far.