With the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on the table for debate on January 24, some of the most well known websites, like Wikipedia, Ebay, Yahoo and more are considering a “nuclear option” or simultaneous blackout, to protest the legislation that many feel will destroy the Internet.
SOPA, or H.R. 3261, would permit the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders the ability to “seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.” The bill would also make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 pieces of music or movies within six months.” The bill has broad support in Congress, “This is a bipartisan piece of legislation which is extremely important,” Henry Reid said in December. “I repeat, it is bipartisan. I hope we can have a productive couple of days, pass this bill, and move on to other matters.”
The bill has been compared to China’s system of national censorship and blocking content for its citizens. According to many industry experts will be detrimental to web-related businesses, open source software such as add-ons for Firefox and Google, and has the potential for a serious invasion of privacy. If passed it could target “an entire website even if only a small portion hosts or links to some infringing content.”
Supporters of SOPA include the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Viacom, and other tv, movie and music unions. Trademarked companies like Nike and L’Oreal and Go Daddy have also publicly supported the bill. In late 2011, Go Daddy reversed its stance, but not after some 37,000 domain holders jumped ship to Namecheap. The boycott of Go Daddy was in large part due to Wikipedia pulling its domains and a Reddit-led outcry.
The decision to black out sites is not without some risk, but as Joel Hruska of ExtremeTech points out, “a few simple sentences identifying why the blackout is in place will ensure that the majority of the rage flows in the proper direction.”