New Delhi: January 18 - Internet Blackout Day - is a date that will live in ignorance, as the world's largest encyclopaedia Wikipedia started a 24-hour blackout of the English version of the website.
Wikipedia joined other big and small websites in a protest against pending US legislation aimed at shutting down sites that share pirated movies and other content.
Wikipedia and other proponents of a free Internet believe that if Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are passed it "will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States."
Internet Blackout Day succeeded in attracting the attention of lawmakers and industry leaders backing the bills.
It is the first time the English site has been blacked out. Wikipedia's Italian site came down once briefly in protest to an Internet censorship bill put forward by the Berlusconi government. The bill did not advance.
The decision was reached after polling the community of contributors, but dissenters say political advocacy undermines the site's mission as a neutral source.
Unlike Wikipedia, Google didn't black out its entire website but only its logo, reminiscent of the doodles that the search engine giant puts up to commemorate special occasions. Google also directed users to a page titled "End Piracy, Not Liberty" that put together information on why SOPA and the PIPA are wrong and users could also add their names to a petition against the bills.
"Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and Web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet," said a Google spokeswoman.
The legislation being debated in the US Congress target foreign websites that violate copyrights online by banning US companies from providing them with advertising, payment or other Internet services.
The Internet companies are concerned that the legislation, if passed, could be used to target legitimate sites where users share content.
US payment processors and advertisers would have to end service to foreign websites that copyright holders say are infringing their rights, or be liable to be sued. Search engines and Internet companies would be banned from providing links to infringing sites.
Critics of the proposed legislation argue that the proposals would stifle Internet innovation and online freedom, a key driver of US and global economic growth.
The White House raised concerns over the weekend, pledging to work with Congress to battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy and innovation in the Internet. The administration signalled it might use its veto power, if necessary.
With public sentiment on the bill shifting in recent weeks and an implicit veto threat now emerging from the White House, Congressional staffers are resigning themselves to writing replacement language or possibly entirely new bills.
Three key section of the existing legislation seem likely to remain. They comprise provisions aimed at getting search engines to disable links to foreign infringing sites; provisions that cut off advertising services to those sites; and provisions that cut off payment processing.
But critical provisions that would require Internet service providers such as Verizon Communications and Comcast Corp. to cut off infringing sites through a technology known as DNS blocking are now likely to be eliminated.
Critics have said that such measures would only encourage people to navigate the web in riskier ways, with modified browsers or other tweaks that could lead to their Internet sessions getting hijacked by scammers.
Lawmakers had already been coming around to the realisation they would have to hold back on the DNS-blocking provisions.
Supporters of the bills include movie and music companies such as Walt Disney, content providers such as the National Football League and News Corp., pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly, and the US Chamber of Commerce.
They argue the bills' sweeping provisions are necessary to shutter the burgeoning numbers of foreign-based cybercrime sites that sell counterfeit goods, pirated software or fake pharmaceuticals, or stream copyrighted content like music and movies.
Reddit.com shut down its social news service for 12 hours. Other sites made their views clear without cutting off surfers.
Wordpress, one of the world's most popular blogging platforms, also put its weight behind the protests by blacking out the homepage of Wordpress.org. Thousands of Wordpress-powered blogs also joined in using one of the many SOPA Blackout plugins made available by developers.
Local listings site Craiglist took a middle route, changing its local home pages to a black screen directing users to an anti-legislation page. After 10 seconds, a link to the main site appears on the home page, but some surfers missed that and were fooled into thinking the whole site was blacked out.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also joined the growing chorus against the proposed anti-piracy bills in the US, saying the two "poorly thought out laws" are not the "right solutions" to the problem of piracy but will only harm the Internet.
Zuckerberg posted his remarks against the anti-piracy legislation on his Facebook wall.
Topics related to the Internet Blackout Day dominated the top Twitter trends on Wednesday, but the protest did not get Twitter itself getting involved in a direct role. "Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish," Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted, but he followed up with a Tweet stating the company will continue to take an active role in opposing the bills.
That position of criticising the bills, but sitting out the blackout is echoed by many big tech companies, including several who wrote to Congress in November to complain about the legislation, such as AOL Inc, eBay Inc, Mozilla and Zynga Inc.
"We are not adjusting the consumer experience on our properties tomorrow, but we will be helping to drive awareness of key issues around these bills to our users," said Tekedra Mawakana, senior vice president for public policy at AOL.
In November, a number of technology companies wrote to key lawmakers expressing opposition to the bill, including eBay, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Mozilla.
Supporters of the bill were quick to attack the protests. "This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts," said Lamar Smith, chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee and a sponsor of SOPA. "Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy."
Former US senator Chris Dodd, who now chairs the Motion Picture Association of America, labelled the blackout a "gimmick" and called for its supporters to "stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy."
Internet Blackout Day got thousands of websites to participate and generated public discussion and succeeded in attracting the attention of lawmakers and industry leaders backing the bills.
(With inputs from agencies)
- Google censors its logo in protest against SOPA
- No need of anti-piracy law: Wikipedia co-founder
- Internet blackout fails to enlist big sites