Google, Wikipedia Rally Millions to Protest SOPA, PIPA

“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge,” Wikipedia states on its English version site today, “blacked out” to protest U.S. House and Senate bills that target pirated online material – but have a far-reaching impact on the Internet’s distribution of free-flowing content.
“End Piracy Not Liberty,” states Google, as it blackened its logo and provides visitors a short-form petition to Congress to protest the proposed legislation.
The two Web giants – Wikipedia alone gets 25 million U.S. visitors a day – are part of a protest wave, joined by social media, bloggers and everyday Internet users, that is focusing on two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, that affect millions of online consumers.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and a bipartisan group of 12 initial co-sponsors, introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R. 3261, on October 26, 2011, The bill, and its companion Senate version, expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
Smith called Wikipedia’s blackout a “publicity stunt” and contends that SOPA does not infringe on Internet freedom.
“It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act,” Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. “The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”
Smith also he will continue the House Judiciary Committee’s markup sessions on SOPA in February. Smith is the committee’s chairman.
“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property,” he said in a separate statement.
At least on the Senate side, today’s protest seems to be having an impact, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a co-sponsor of PIPA, withdrawing support for the bill and urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to reverse plans for a vote.
“We must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies,” Rubio wrote on his Facebook page.  “Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.”
The White House this weekend said it would oppose any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
The bills’ primary backers – Hollywood studios, recording labels, and other media companies – want to halt the illegal distribution online of their properties. They are seeking protection from overseas websites that trade in pirated materials, but aren’t bound by U.S. copyright law.
As originally proposed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
The court order could include barring online advertising networks and payment facilitators, such as PayPal, from doing business with the allegedly infringing website, barring search engines from linking to such sites, and requiring Internet service providers to block access to such sites.
The bill would also make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime and provide immunity to Internet services that voluntarily take action against websites deemed to infringe on the rights of copyright holders.

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