Two weeks ago we experienced a moment of Internet history. On Jan. 18, dubbed “Blackout Day,” Internet giants such as Google, Reddit and Wikipedia acted in protest in an attempt to show how overreaching the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are by censoring themselves for a day.
The coordinated action was intended to raise the profile of the debate to those outside of the tight-knit technology community. In fact, prior to the blackout, few people outside of the technology sector had heard of SOPA or PIPA. Following the protest, Wikipedia reported that its site had been viewed 162 million times, with 8 million people following instructions to contact politicians. Google reported that almost 5 million of its visitors used its site to contact politicians.
The press has focused its attention on opponents of SOPA, who claim that the legislation violates the First Amendment, threatens free speech and is nothing short of censorship. Opponents, who have warned that SOPA would have a negative impact on online communities, have initiated a number of protest actions, including petition drives, boycotts of companies that support the legislation and planned service blackouts like the one staged by Wikipedia. They claim that making companies liable for users’ actions could have a chilling effect on user-generated sites such as YouTube. They also cite concerns regarding the impact on common Internet functions such as linking or access data from the cloud. Opponents claim that enacting SOPA could have a ripple effect that could lead to many cloud-computing and Web-hosting services to move out of the U.S. to avoid lawsuits, and that venture capitalists could, in turn, siphon funding to online startups.