(Gawkwire) – Look around the Internet today and you’ll notice something big. Some of the web’s top sites are blacked out in protest of controversial anti-piracy legislation including the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Such sites include the likes of Wikipedia, WordPress.org, WordPress.com, and social site Reddit. However, one of the most visible changes that people will probably notice online includes the Google search Doodle which is blacked out in protest of the legislation as well.
If you’re not too familiar with the legislation, you may be wondering about the difference between SOPA and PIPA, two common abbreviations you’ll hear about today. Are the two bills the same thing? Are they different? To set things straight, they’re in fact pretty similar. The only difference is that they’re just making their ways through the two different bodies of the U.S. Congress. SOPA is the U.S. House’s version of the bill while PIPA is the U.S. Senate’s version.
Online tech innovators have long opposed bills including SOPA and PIPA, fearing that they would harm free speech on the web. In fact, the legislation has included provisions that would remove what the bills’ critics view as due process.
SOPA Takes a Hit
Initially, the Stop Online Piracy Act would have afforded the U.S. Justice Department the power to require that ISPs block customer access to domains accused of containing pirated content. The sites accused of infringement would have no chance to respond to accusations of such infringement.
That provision is looking less likely to be included as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) agreed to remove DNS blocking from the bill’s house version (SOPA) on Friday.
Despite that, DNS blocking currently remains alive and well in the U.S. Senate’s version of the bill (PIPA). However, PIPA top sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy (who introduced the bill) agreed on Thursday that the issue warranted further study preceding implementation of the actual blocking by law enforcement. A provision requiring further study is expected to be included in a Manager’s Amendment likely to be considered before the U.S. Senate votes on the bill (as expected next Tuesday).
The idea of warranting further study on DNS blocking is highly unlikely to please critics who would prefer that the idea be stripped from the legislation in its entirety.
And the Rest..
Meanwhile, other provisions of both SOPA and PIPA would require that companies doing financial business with sites accused of copyright violations immediately cease such activity. In effect, the accused sites could take a large financial hit before they’ve been able to properly defend against their actions.
Critics also worry that other provisions of the bill would enable website black listings on some of the Internet’s top search engines.
User Generated Content
One of critics’ top fears is that the bills would give U.S. authorities the power to hold websites too accountable for user generated content.
For example, let’s say it’s a site that allows its users to post streaming videos (something similar to YouTube) and one user out of possibly thousands uploads a pirated file, thus violating someone’s copyright. Authorities would then have the ability to hold the entire website just as accountable as the single user for the pirated content. After all, how feasible is it that tech innovators police the actions of possibly thousands upon thousands of users?
The effect could then be described as an unfair burden placed upon tech providers. Could entire websites receive blacklisting based upon the actions of a single user?
With that point in mind, it’s easy to understand why the web hosting community in particular is so opposed to the legislation as hosting providers could be required to meet the same standard (being held liable for the actions of a few customers).
While it’s easy to notice some of the Internet’s largest presences taking part in today’s blackout, here’s a look at some of the web hosting industry’s entities that are also participating in the protest against SOPA and PIPA:
Codero – Web hosting provider Codero, a company offering dedicated and cloud hosting services is featuring a blacked out screen upon initially visiting their site. It reads, “This is what the web could look like under the Stop Online Piracy Act”. You can view that here: http://www.codero.com/
Rackspace Hosting – The homepage of web hosting provider Rackspace currently features an image with SOPA crossed out. Rackspace provides hosting solutions including managed and cloud.
Mozilla – Mozilla, the company behind popular Internet web browser Firefox has blacked out its homepage in opposition to the bills. The site reads, “Today Mozilla joins with other sites in a virtual strike to protest two proposed laws in the United States, called SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act. On January 24th, the U.S. Senate will vote on the PROTECT IP Act to censor the Internet, despite opposition from the vast majority of Americans.”
Namecheap – Web hosting provider Namecheap has blacked out the front page of their website in opposition to the bills. Namecheap’s homepage reads, “We have blacked out our site in protest of SOPA and PIPA bills, currently being consider in the US House and Senate. If either one passes, the internet as we know it could be destroyed forever.” Namecheap provides domains, email, web hosting, and SSL.
Zopim – Zopim, a provider of livechat software has posted a message regarding the bills on its homepage. Zopim states, “To do our part in raising awareness, and to mark the dark period that could engulf the Internet should the bill pass, we have decided to replace our default (orange) chat bubble with a black bubble for one day. (ending at 18 Jan 11.59PM PST).”
cPanel – Popular web hosting control panel provider cPanel is donating $2.50 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for each time one of the company’s web hosting providers tweets “#cpanel4antisopa”. That’s in addition to five thousand dollars that the company has already contributed. Further information on that can be found here: http://www.cpanel.net/2012/01/anti-sopa.html
site5 – Web hosting provider Site5 features a blacked out page upon initially visiting their website, explaining their opposition to the bills. Also listed is a link to the Save Hosting Coalition, an organization of web hosting providers opposed to the legislation.
Down Against SOPA – Need a WordPress plugin to show your opposition to the controversial legislation? That can be found here: http://downagainstsopa.com/
mitchkeeler.com – "If Congress passes SOPA, the Internet will be permanently censored," states mitchkeeler.com. Mitch Keeler provides popular web casts discussing issues in the hosting community.
OpenDNS – DNS resolution provider OpenDNS is voicing its opposition to PIPA/SOPA by blacking out search results through its service. That can be viewed here: http://guide.opendns.com/main?q=SOPA
DiscountASP.NET – Asp.net hosting provider DiscountASP.NET has posted a message on its site protesting the bills. Part of it reads, “DiscountASP.NET opposes SOPA and PIPA. We join Wikipedia, Craigslist, reddit, Tucows, Boing-Boing, The Cheezeburger Network and many other sites and Internet freedom coalitions in this day of protest.”
Who’s Behind SOPA/PIPA?
So with such widespread opposition to the bills, you may be wondering, “who are SOPA/PIPA’s supporters?” Backing mostly comes from those in the film and music industries. Such supporters include Sony Music Entertainment, News Corporation, Viacom, ABC, CBS, Sony Music and a whole lot more.
While everyone can agree that pirated content has a negative effect on everyone, do bills such as SOPA and PIPA go too far in suppressing free speech, a right we hold so dear?