LOS ANGELES — Most people probably haven’t paid much
attention to the huge corporations waging war in Washington over
legislation designed to crack down on online theft of movies, music and
other content. But the conflict will hit consumers in the face
Wednesday, when Wikipedia and several other websites intend to go dark
to protest the proposed changes.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced Monday that
the hugely popular online encyclopedia would be unavailable for 24 hours
to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and related legislation, which
opponents say could lead to censorship or the complete shutdown of some
Wikipedia plans to join Reddit, Boing Boing and
hundreds of other sites in the so-called SOPA Strike, an attempt to
publicize their complaints about proposals supported by the movie and
music industries and other media companies.
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,
it must be demanded by the oppressed, MLK. On Wednesday, Wikipedia
demands,” Wales said via Twitter on Monday, Martin Luther King Day.
In a statement announcing the shutdown of the
English-language version of the site, Wales said the legislation would
“harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for
censorship of international websites inside the United States.”
The Motion Picture Association of America and others
driving the legislation said real progress had been made toward creating
a law that would protect intellectual property. The advocates said
misinformation is inflaming passions on the Web while doing nothing to
solve the problem of piracy.
“It’s part and parcel of a campaign to distract from
the real issue here and to draw people away from trying to resolve what
is a real problem, which is that foreigners continue to steal the hard
work of Americans,” said Michael O’Leary, the executive leading the
MPAA’s campaign for the bills. He called Wednesday’s plan an example of
the “gimmicks and distortion” that have been used in an attempt to block
The protesting websites — which reportedly also will
include Mozilla, WordPress and TwitPic — plan to act Wednesday despite
the Obama administration’s signal last weekend that it wanted changes in
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign
websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative
response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of
expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic,
innovative global Internet,” said a statement from three White House
officials: Victoria Espinel, intellectual property enforcement
coordinator; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. chief technology officer; and Howard
Schmidt, cybersecurity coordinator for the national security staff.
Internet operators — including giants Google Inc. and
eBay Inc. — have opposed the legislation because, they said, it would
let companies move to block websites and, in one version, take away
their user addresses if they are deemed to have misappropriated any
The Internet companies said the proposed legislation —
SOPA in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the
Senate — would allow operators no real due process before government
actions could be taken against them. They said the result would be
censorship and a strangling of the free flow of information that
represents the soul of Web freedom.
Lobbyists for the Internet companies said they
believed their concerns had not been heeded in early rounds of the
legislation. The blackouts and an outpouring of protests from everyday
Internet users could turn the tide.
“A lot of people feel that nobody has been listening
and this is a way to get people to listen,” said Maura Corbett,
spokeswoman for Net Coalition, which represents Google, eBay and others.
“This is more than a stunt. This is saying, ‘Please listen to us.’”
O’Leary of the MPAA rejected the idea that Internet
purveyors’ concerns had not been heard. He noted that SOPA’s sponsor in
the House had just agreed that one of the most contentious provisions —
which would have allowed wholesale blocking of an offending website’s
domain name — would be removed.
“So now they’ve pivoted and started complaining about
something else,” O’Leary said. “We are interested in working with
people who want to find a real solution, not just maintain the status
quo, because with that, the criminals have the advantage and that is
just not acceptable.”
Steven Tepp, chief intellectual property counsel for
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, shares that opinion. “When it comes to
fighting these sites dedicated to the theft of intellectual property and
the theft of American jobs,” he said in an interview, “the Chamber of
Commerce is not backing down.”
O’Leary said “responsible and legitimate” businesses could not afford such “stunts.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said
Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he plans to bring the legislation to a
vote next week.
Tiffiniy Cheng of the Massachusetts-based Center for
Rights said Internet operators big and small continue to see problems
with the legislation. Her group launched a SOPA Strike website to track
the protest plans and counted some 5,000 sites — from individuals’
Facebook pages to giants such as Wikipedia — that plan to take some
action Wednesday to protest the legislation.
She denied any suggestion that big Internet companies
were the driving force behind the protest. Her group started talking to
groups about the legislation in November, and the protests spread
online. “It’s gone ablaze on the Internet and now it’s sort of out of
our hands,” Cheng said.
©2012 the Los Angeles Times
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