Three of the Internet’s most popular destinations–Google, Wikipedia, and Craigslist–launched an audacious experiment in political activism this evening by urging their users to protest a pair of Hollywood-backed copyright laws.
Wikipedia’s English-language pages went completely black at 9 p.m. PT, with a splash page saying “the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” The online encyclopedia’s blackout will last 24 hours.
Craigslist and Google have taken a different approach. The sites are remaining online during Wednesday’s virtual protest, but the home pages feature exhortations to contact members of Congress and urge them to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate version called Protect IP.
CNET predicted the protest in a December 29 article that said opponents of the bills may “simultaneously turn” their home pages “black with anti-censorship warnings that ask users to contact politicians about a vote in the U.S. Congress.”
This is “classic Hollywood trying to do heavy handed legislation to protect its business interests,” Casey Rae-Hunter, deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition, told reporters this morning.
Among the other Web sites that, in one way or another, have joined the blackout: Metafilter, the Consumer Electronics Association, BoingBoing, OpenDNS, WordPress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Internet’s most popular dinosaur comic strip.
“There’s a lot of sort of technologically ignorant language in” SOPA and Protect IP, said Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, which has become a focal point of anti-SOPA activism. Both bills, he said, were “done without a lot of thought about the impact and the execution and without a lot of knowledge technically about how the Internet operates.”
SOPA, of course, represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore Web sites. It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet service providers, and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish. It’s opposed (PDF) by many Internet companies, users, and civil liberties groups.
Mozilla will join the protest at 5 a.m. PT (8 a.m. ET) tomorrow in what it’s calling a “virtual strike” against SOPA and Protect IP. It will black out the default start page for
Firefox users and ask them to take action.
“SOPA makes all of us potential criminals if we don’t become the enforcement arm of a new government regulatory and policing structure,” Mozilla chairwoman Mitchell Baker wrote in a blog post today.
The protest had a few hiccups. For the first 20 minutes or so, Google’s initial sign-this-petition Web page delivered this message: “Error: Server Error / The server encountered an error and could not complete your request.”
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