Popular websites show opposition of SOPA and PIPA with blackouts

Andrew Messamore

While some UT students may be confused to find Wikipedia and other social media sites offline today, others stand with the sites in their opposition to recent anti-piracy bills facing the House of Representatives.

Wikipedia, Reddit and the Cheezburger Network of social media websites began a 24-hour blackout today at midnight to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Both acts would crack down on the sale of illegally downloaded material by forcing Internet service providers to block access to sites that violate U.S. copyright laws.

Members of the Wikipedia community and other sites believe these acts would “seriously damage the free and open Internet” by opening the way to further censorship, according to a statement published on the English Wikipedia’s homepage. While SOPA is currently suspended from receiving a house vote, PIPA is still slated to go before the House of Representative for vote Tuesday, Jan. 24.

White House representatives came out against SOPA and PIPA in a written statement Saturday because the acts threatened a “dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

University Democrats communications director André Treiber said the acts risk inhibiting creativity and the freedom of speech, agreeing with the White House’s position.

“[SOPA] is stifling, too broad and has a shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach, as far as due process is concerned,” Treiber said. “As a whole, it is overreaching and is the equivalent of using dynamite when a scalpel is more appropriate.”

Members of the political activist group, Fight for the Future, are standing with Wikipedia and other websites against the bills. Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, said if the bill was allowed to pass the United States could eventually become more like China.

“This strike is about a struggle between a people with a means to communicate freely and the government’s ability to threaten it,” said Cheng. “It’s a fundamental fight for free speech.”

Something, however, must be done to protect the industries that are hurt by illegal activity on the web, said radio-television-film junior Eric Antonowicz.

“Both sides of the issue have salient points,” Antonowicz said. “You can’t just keep breaking copyright law but at the same time I don’t think that censorship is right in any way. I’m glad that they are taking a stand against it but I also think that something has to be done. Copyright gets broken way too much and the industry loses a lot of money.”

This type of Internet protest is historically significant given the size, credibility and usage of Wikipedia and Google, said government lecturer James Henson.

“SOPA is activating a libertarian streak in Internet users that was the stance 10 to 15 years ago that fell on the wayside as the Internet had become a corporate enterprise,” Henson said. “I don’t think that the world is going to stop turning because you can’t use Wikipedia, but I do think it’s going to raise visibility. It’s still to be seen whether or not this is going to catch on.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: Websites show opposition to anti-piracy bills