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Blackout to protest SOPA and PIPA begins

In case you haven’t heard, or tried to use some of the most popular websites today, like Wikipedia, Reddit or Boing Boing, there is a unique protest underway by these online giants and many others. For the first time, they have voluntarily gone offline today to register their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two bills that they see as an existential threat to themselves and the internet as we know it. Instead of just going dark, they wisely decided to post messages that explain their action and provide ways for users to learn more and get involved in the campaign to stop these bills in their tracks.

Right now Wikipedia and Reddit are asking users to call their representatives and sign a petition to make their voices heard. If this initial push doesn’t work, opponents of these bills may benefit from studying a similar struggle, which Ter Garcia reported on for this site, against the SOPA-like Sinde Law in Spain that was being pushed by the U.S. and was recently defeated after a massive mobilization both online and off against it.

Rather than explain the ins and outs of the bills myself, I suggest checking out the Electronic Freedom Foundation for starters and delving deeper from there. And if you have the time and interest, you can read the SOPA and PIPA bills themselves.

Many of the other biggest sites on the internet, including Google (which has blacked out its logo for the day), Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Mozilla, Ebay, Paypal, Tumblr, Kickstarter and AOL have spoken out against the bills and could take similar action should they continue to move forward. Were this “nuclear option” implemented, it would be reminiscent of when Mubarak shut down the internet last year in Egypt in an extremely counterproductive move to thwart the budding revolution. It would also reveal more clearly than ever before the power that these companies have over our lives and how rarely they have flexed their muscle for any issue, good or bad.

Another ingenious way anyone with an Android phone can get involved in the campaign is by downloading and using the “Boycott SOPA” app, which allows you to scan barcodes in stores to see whether products are “either created by or intimately related to SOPA supporting companies.” Created by two computer science students from the University of British Columbia in less than two days, this app is the first of its kind and has the potential to make boycotts of all kinds far more easy to join and effective. (At the Guardian, Dan Gillmor offers several helpful suggestions for how this app or its successors could be improved.)

In response to the growing opposition to these bills, the Obama administration came out on Saturday against SOPA, at least as it currently stands, which many believe has shelved it for the time being. PIPA, on the other hand, is still moving forward and is scheduled for a vote next Tuesday in the Senate. How today’s blackout will impact this timeline or the bills themselves is yet to be seen.