Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Major Sites Plan Blackouts In Protests Against SOPA

Update: You may have already noticed several major sites including Wikipedia and Craigslist have already put up their blackout pages. Many sites are choosing to add a 3-4sec splash screen type delay. Just note that doesn't mean the sites were hacked. This is a planned organized protest.

Starting at 5AM PST (8AM EST) you may notice some of your favorite websites are offline. Don't be alarmed! This is in protest to the recently proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The protest is set to begin Jan 18th at 8AM EST and end at 8PM EST.

Several major websites including Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, BoingBoing, Imgur and Tucows, are planning a partial, if not total, blackout Wednesday to protest the controversial anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress. According to Fight for the Future and SOPAStike, two of the groups organizing the protests, nearly 12,000 websites have said they will join the blackout. That number is still growing.

If you need to use some of your favorite sites like Wikipedia for any urgent research, make sure you do it today – come tomorrow, you’ll be clean out of luck.

So what is SOPA Anyway?

SOPA and PIPA are actually two independent pieces of legislation. SOAPA is currently being considered in the House and PIPA in the Senate. Both are designed to tackle the problem of foreign-based websites that sell pirated movies, music and other products.

The goal is to give Intellectual Property (IP) owners more tools to go after foreign sites they claim are infringing upon their IP and contributing to the theft and sale of U.S. goods, music, video and other material.

Opponents argue that the bills will give content and IP owners too much power to go after websites they decide are infringing on their rights. The argument is that while the bills are targeted only at foreign websites, there are still sections that provide for very sweepings powers that could be used against legitimate U.S. websites. Inevitably forcing then to undertake costly and impractical monitoring of their sites to ensure compliance with SOPA and PIPA.

The main issue is with DNS blacklisting. This very sticky provision would have required ISPs to prevent Americans from visiting blacklisted sites by altering the DNS service that translates site names like Google.com into IP addresses such as Instead, for the blacklisted sites, ISPs would have to return a negative result so their customer's browsers would show that the site doesn’t exist. You could still reach the site via it's direct IP address just not by the domain name.

According to MPAA tech policy chief Paul Brigner the Motion Picture Associaton of America has conceded that DNS filtering will not be included in the anti-piracy bills now making their way through Congress. His remarks came during a debate on SOPA at the State of the Net conference in Washington DC. The event was sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.

Brigner's comments were echoed by Steve Tepp of the US Chamber of Congress, another major SOPA supporter. He said the DNS provisions of SOPA and PIPA have "essentially been taken off the table," as the sponsors of both bills—Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), respectively—have pledged to remove those provisions from the bill.

Many contend that while this provision was a major sticking point many of the provisions still in the bills will enable a sort of Internet censorship and prior restraint on free speech.

You can view the entire bill here (download PDF).

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