If you’ve tried to use Wikipedia today, you might have found it quite difficult. The online encylopedia, and social news site Reddit were among several websites that have shut down in protest against SOPA and PIPA, two new, controversial acts of anti-piracy legislation. Whilst the two bills are intended to prevent copyright infringement and protect content providers, there is a very real fear that this will stifle freedom of expression and leave websites open to being sued or shut down.
Content providers such as record labels and movie studios argue that their industries are threatened by piracy,particularly on foreign websites. But in practice, it is feared, the bills would force all websites to police any user-contributed content, and any websites they linked to, in case they contained links to pirated material.
The blackout began at midnight, Eastern Time on 18th January and is intended to raise awareness of the new legislation and its implications. Many other websites and blogs have followed Wikipedia’s lead (sometimes with funny results, see our examples below).
SOPA and PIPA: What do they mean?
SOPA is an acronym for Stop Online Piracy Act. This act is currently working its way through US Congress. PIPA or the Protect Intellectual Property Act, is a similar piece of legislation, but in the Senate.
The acts aim to combat piracy on foreign websites by effectively cutting off the material at the source. Search engines would not be allowed to show sites which have been flagged, and advertisers would hae to withhold their services.
A more in-depth explanation of SOPA can be found at CNN Money – SOPA Explained.
CBS News also ran an article on the subject- SOPA, PIPA: What you need to know
And here are some sites that have followed Wikipedia’s lead:
The Oatmeal – Warning, possibly NSFW!
Google.com have a link under their search box
And finally, @bobrains had this to say on Twitter: