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Where’s Wikipedia? Or Reddit? Or BoingBoing? Can’t find your favorite website today? Don’t panic, it’s only a temporary grassroots protest against two proposed federal laws that critics say threaten American democracy and a free and open Internet.
The names of the proposed bills sound innocent enough – but thousands of companies who do business on the Internet fear censorship or worse.
The Obama administration has come out against the two bills, along with more than 14,000 Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, so Congress has shelved them for the time being.
Today, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement saying that his panel will delay markup of SOPA until February:
"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy," Smith said. “I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property."
Supporters of the bills say their intention is noble, to protect the nation’s companies and creative artists from online piracy. Critics, such as the grassroots protest called Fight for the Future, say the bills give the government way too much power to police the Internet, including giving the U.S. Attorney General the power to shut down any website that violates the laws.
Alleged violators of the law would have five days to comply with any court order to remove the offending material or face obliteration on the Internet.
Free-speech advocates worry that the laws could be abused by record companies, the TV and movie industry, Wall Street or even Congress as a way of silencing their critics.
"Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet," Google said in a statement. "So [today] we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page."
Boing Boing went completely dark, showing a black background with a brief explanation:
Boing Boing is offline today, because the US Senate is considering legislation that would certainly kill us forever. The legislation is called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), and would put us in legal jeopardy is we linked to a site anywhere online that had any links to copyright infringement.
This would unmake the Web, just as proposed in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). We don't want that world. If you don't want it either, visit AmericanCensorship.org for instructions on contacting your Senator. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on this and other issues central to your freedom online.
LGBT media such as San Diego Gay & Lesbian News continually face censorship efforts by private companies and schools that buy anti-virus and security software that loosely screens for such things as pornography websites; alas, search words such as gay or lesbian are often deemed “offensive” by some software, and SDGLN and other LGBT media are routinely blocked from viewing by workers at those companies or students at those schools. The ACLU has filed lawsuits in such matters and usually win.
The line in the sand has been drawn: Hollywood, the Entertainment Software Association and other powerful groups that deal with creative copyrights vs. the Internet businesses that could lose their livelihood with the flip of the so-called “kill switch.”