I have somewhat mixed feelings about Internet Blackout Day. Much as I sympathize with the motives, I have never much liked campaigns that try to take the oppressor’s symbols (pink triangles, yellow stars, what have you) and turn them around into pride symbols. The origins stick.
Similarly, I get the idea of fighting censorship with quiet. See what censorship will get you? But I still don’t like it. So I’ve run a compromise, with an overlay on this site that you can click through.
The cause is serious. Congress is contemplating two very dangerous Internet blacklist bills: SOPA (in the House) and PIPA (in the Senate). SOPA has been shelved, perhaps only temporarily, but PIPA is still alive and kicking.
The “Stop Online Piracy Act”/”E-PARASITE Act” (SOPA) and “The PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.
The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.
These bills are targeted at “rogue” websites that allow indiscriminate piracy, but use vague definitions that could include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire, and Rapidshare; sites that discuss piracy such as pirate-party.us, p2pnet, Torrent Freak, torproject.org, and ZeroPaid; as well as a broad range of sites for user-generated content, such as SoundCloud, Etsy, and Deviant Art. Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.
There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law. These acts would allow the Attorney General, and even individuals, to create a blacklist to censor sites when no court has found that they have infringed copyright or any other law.
See also EFF’s blacklist site. PIPA is scheduled for a vote in the Senate next Tuesday, so if you are a US citizen this is a good time to call your Senators and tell them to oppose the bills.