If you were wondering why you couldn’t access Wikipedia or why sites like Google had their logo blacked out, it was due to the sites’ participating in the largest online protest in history. On January 18, 2012, SOPA, the U.S. House of Representatives Stop Online Piracy Act, caused an Internet blackout on some of the most popular sites on the web. SOPA does not allow websites with infringing content to be present on the web. Along with that, the bill restricts advertising networks and payment facilities from administering business with infringing websites, as well as preventing search engines from linking with these sites. The bill will also allow the U.S. Attorney General to seek a court order on foreign websites who commit online piracy. Legislation can permit law enforcement to remove an entire domain due to something posted on just one blog, and the maximum penalty for violating this bill is up to five years in prison without due process of law.
The entertainment companies are extremely supportive of this bill, since these companies lose billions of dollars due to online piracy every year. If infringing content is discovered, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that is already in effect, allows rights holders to request the removal of that content. SOPA will grant rights holders a large quantity of power with a great potential for abuse. The bill may work in favor for entertainment companies, but internet-related companies argue the bill will over-regulate the Web and violate the right to Freedom of Speech.
In order to stop the bill from being passed, websites such as Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, and many others put large, black boxes over several parts of their site in protest, causing an “Internet blackout.” Wikipedia went as far as shutting down the entire English-language version worldwide, for 24 hours. Wikipedia editors expressed that the blackout is to protest the breach of the right to free and open Internet. This protest of blacking out sites proved to the House that opponents of the bill would not go down without a fight.
According to CBS News, on January 20, 2012, the bill was postponed until “wider agreement of a solution.” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar S. Smith, did not even put the bill on the floor for discussion. He stated that after the blackout, many original supporters of the bill now proposed it, causing a reevaluation of the bill’s policies. The SOPA bill may have been postponed, but the fight against government regulation of the Internet has not ended for its opponents. The House is working on a different bill to end copyright infringement that will have more supporters within the House.