The Forthcoming Internet Blackout

In protest of legislation pending in Congress, the SOPA/PIPA, legislation that would allow the summary takedown without trial of web sites if they are alleged by copyright holders to contain copyrighted material, many sites are going dark for all or part of Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. As every web site of any size contains at least one copyrighted item by design or (often enough) by mistake, that’s just about every web site, period. No accommodation is made for fair use, as far as I can tell. And no opportunity is given for the site owner to argue the truth or falsehood of the copyright holder’s assertion.

Aaron Wang of Huffington Post explains it this way (bolds are mine):

SOPA works like this: in order to stop you from downloading or streaming music and movies, the U.S. Justice Department is allowed to serve court orders on websites that “engage in, enable, or facilitate” infringement on copyrighted content. Any company that believes its copyright is being infringed upon can accuse a website of copyright infringement and can easily allow that website’s domain, or address, to be blocked. This bill could allow a site like the Huffington Post to be blocked indefinitely if even one of the thousands of articles on the site includes something that would be considered a copyright infringement. Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and sites like these would be affected the most. Numerous search results in Google would be blocked by SOPA-related court orders. YouTube, the home of hundreds of thousands of videos made using copyrighted music, video, and images, would be engulfed into oblivion by SOPA claims. You posted a copyrighted picture on Facebook? Theoretically, all of Facebook could be shut down because of it.

No muss, no fuss… no web site. One complaint to the courts, and your site is down. You’re guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Slam!

This is mostly Hollywood at work, an effort allegedly to interdict the download of entire movies. They are claiming huge financial damages from movies stolen rather than sold, but the figures are wild overestimations because they assume every illegal movie download is a lost sale… an improbable assertion at best, wishful thinking on their part at worst.

Sites going dark include Google, Wikipedia (US only), reddit, Mozilla, WordPress, icanhazcheezburger (!), Raw Story, MoveOn, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and hundreds of other better- and lesser-known sites… including the one you’re reading right now. Yes, I’m taking the YDS dark on Wednesday. from 8:00 AM ET (7:00 AM CT) to 8:00 PM ET (7:00 PM CT). For a more complete list of sites going dark, see the SOPA Strike Site. All of us, large sites and small, want to give the public a taste of what the online world would be like once draconian enforcement of SOPA begins.

Here’s Google News’s section on SOPA. You won’t be able to read it tomorrow, because Google is among the sites going dark in protest. Read it today… your internet may depend in it.

POSSIBLE CORRECTION: it is possible that WordPress will shut down its blog hosting system for longer than the 8AM-8PM window I have set up. In that case, my blog will be dark for as long as they are.

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