For whatever reason, this excites me. You know the original title for Atlas Shrugged was “The Strike,” right? Just let major Internet websites shut down to prove a point — and surely legislators will rethink the Stop Online Piracy Act. Then again, I’m not sure how I’d get through even one day without Google, one of the sites reportedly mulling participation in Reddit’s recently scheduled blackout:
It’s on — at least partially: Reddit has announced that it will go dark for 12 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that he hopes to coordinate with the site so that Wikipedia does the same. Will other sites join in? Should we prepare for the Great Internet Strike of 2012?
Writing that it’s “not taking this action lightly,” Reddit announced on Tuesday that it will black out its site on Jan. 18 for 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m. E.T. During that period, the site’s content will be replaced with “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.” The company will also run a live video stream of that day’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Internet security, intellectual property and economic growth.
On the site’s blog, the Reddit team admitted that “we’re as addicted to reddit as the rest of you,” but also explained that “we wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it. Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community.” The company says support for a blackout isn’t unanimous among the Reddit community, and it is asking for input as it decides what to do next.
From the sounds of it, Google, Twitter and Facebook won’t join in — their consideration seems to be more of the polite than the serious variety — but Wikipedia might really be on board. We shall see.
In the meantime, as a reminder, the Stop Online Piracy Act would enable the U.S. government to block Internet content for very specious reasons. Sites that “enable or facilitate” copyright infringement could be shut down just for that enabling or facilitating function. In other words, a site like YouTube could be shut down just because one of its users posted content that infringes copyright laws. As critics have pointed out, that’s akin to punishing a car company because a car user crashed his vehicle into another person’s vehicle.
In an unusually blunt statement, Obama administration officials signaled that the White House would not support parts of two bills wending their way through Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) that critics say would limit freedom of speech on the Internet and unfairly punish legitimate websites.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” said a statement from Victoria Espinel, intellectual property enforcement coordinator; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer; and Howard Schmidt, cybersecurity coordinator for the national security staff.
The statement is a setback for the major Hollywood studios and unions that have been mounting a lobbying campaign in support of the bills, which would give the Justice Department more tools to shut down foreign websites involved in the piracy of movies and TV shows. Google, Facebook and other tech companies, however, have been fiercely opposed to the bills, particularly provisions that would allow the Justice Department to obtain court orders requiring internet search engines and payment processors to block access to websites involved in piracy.
Indeed, the SOPA debate has been notable for its ability to make strange bedfellows. When was the last time The Heritage Foundation and the Obama administration actually agreed about something?
Update II: To clarify, it’s not like the White House promised to veto or anything. Instead, the administration has said it will “not support parts of” SOPA and PIPA, which, technically, is not quite the same as “opposing” the bills. It could be the White House just wants to stay out of a fight that pits liberals (Hollywood, etc.) against liberals (Google, etc.). Nevertheless, it’s still helpful that the president doesn’t want to push very hard for SOPA and PIPA — because you can bet opponents will continue to push against them.