Visitors to Google, the world’s most popular search engine, were greeted yesterday by a black box covering the company’s familiar icon, and a message that read “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the Web!” The message linked to a page outlining Google’s opposition and an option to join a petition urging Congress to reject the legislation.
Internet companies say the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate would promote online censorship, disrupt the Web’s architecture and harm their ability to innovate. The movie and music industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, back the legislation as a means to fight piracy by websites that operate outside the U.S.
Websites are upending traditional lobbying in Washington, with the day of protest leading 13 lawmakers who co-sponsored the legislation to begin withdrawing support for the bills. By comparison, it took Wisconsin voters seeking a recall election of Republican Governor Scott Walker about two months to collect 1.9 million signatures.
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that shut the English language version of its website for 24 hours to protest the bills, said more than 162 million people saw the blackout page posted yesterday. More than 8 million U.S. readers looked up their elected representatives through the blackout page to protest the measures, the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation Inc., which runs the Wikipedia site, said in a statement today.
So what is next for SOPA and PIPA in Congress, even as some of their co-sponsors pulled their support in the face of the internet protests. As Hayley Tsukayama explained:
After several prominent Web sites went dark Wednesday to protest federal legislation aimed at stopping online piracy, support for the House and Senate bills appears to be waning. Here’s a quick rundown on the bills and where they stand in Congress.
What are the bills trying to do? The tech world is well-acquainted with the months-long battle over the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). But many Web users only learned about the bills during the blackout protest by Web sites such as Wikipedia, Reddit and WordPress.
The bills are are intended to narrowly address the problem of piracy on foreign Web sites. They differ slightly, but both measures grant the Justice Department the power to order “information location” services to remove links to Web sites that are suspected of pirating. Proponents of the legislation, including movie studios and recording companies, say that the bill protects American intellectual property and also protects consumers against counterfeit goods.
Critics say that the bills place an unreasonable burden on sites such as Google or Wikipedia to police links from their sites to see if they lead to Web sites flagged for bad behavior. They also argue that asking search engines to remove links from sites marked as being dedicated to piracy could be a threat to free speech. By effectively removing the “roads” to any given Web site by hiding it from search engines, they argue, sites using the material under the rules of fair use could be effectively blocked because a company has complained that doesn’t like what is being done with the copyrighted material. Those concerns are what prompted the Web firms to protest what they say is tantamount to government censorship.
How effective were the protests? The numbers rolling in late Wednesday and Thursday morning indicated that the petitions gathered a lot of steam. Google said that 4.5 million people signed its petition against the measure.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the umbrella organization that includes Wikipedia, announced that more than 8 million U.S. visitors looked up their Congressional representatives through its site. The group estimated that 162 million people saw the blackout landing page, which asked visitors to imagine “a world without knowledge.”
The Fight for the Future nonprofit organization, which was behind the overall Web movement, reported Wednesday that it had logged 300,000 e-mails to members of Congress and counting.
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