Websites plan to shut down to protest anti-piracy bills

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 17, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Opponents of a congressional effort to curb Internet piracy gained their biggest ally yet Tuesday, as the search engine Google said it would join a protest of the legislation planned by dozens of websites, many of which will shut down Wednesday.

While Google's protest isn't as dramatic as that of the other websites, it will post a link on its home page Wednesday stating its opposition to the House of Representatives' Stop Online Piracy Act and a companion Senate bill, the Protect IP Act. Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia, will shut down for 24 hours starting at 12 a.m. Others will go dark for part of the day, including the social media news site Reddit and blog-hosting site WordPress.

The anti-piracy bills have supporters and opponents in both parties. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had called cybersecurity experts and Internet entrepreneurs to testify in a hearing Wednesday, but the panel's chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., postponed the hearing after he felt satisfied that lawmakers had begun to listen to the legislation's opponents.

"The voice of the Internet community has been heard," Issa said in a statement. "Much more education for members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal."

The battle pits traditional media companies — including movie and music studios, book publishers and television networks — against technology companies and Internet entrepreneurs. The former group supports the Stop Online Piracy Act because the bill attempts to address the growing problem of foreign websites posting copyrighted content without permission.

Technology companies, however, say the bill would restrict the free flow of information on the World Wide Web and stifle the kind of innovation that gave rise to sites such as YouTube and Facebook.

Faced with an online petition with more than 50,000 signatures calling for President Barack Obama to veto the legislation, the White House weighed in over the weekend. Three Obama administration officials who are involved in technology policy wrote in a memo Saturday that they oppose any effort to censor the Internet or compromise cybersecurity.

However, they stopped short of opposing the bills specifically. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said something had to be done about Internet piracy, and he emphasized that the White House wasn't taking sides between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Carney said the "private sector actors" had "legitimate concerns on both sides, and those need to be addressed. That's what we need to maintain Internet freedom. That's why we need to do something serious about online piracy from foreign websites."

As originally written, the Stop Online Piracy Act would have allowed the Justice Department to order search engines such as Google and Yahoo to delete links to foreign sites with pirated content, making them inaccessible to U.S. Internet users.

However, cybersecurity experts warned that it would be possible for users to get around the restrictions and the provision would discourage U.S. Internet providers from adopting more secure technology.

Last Friday, the act's lead sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he'd remove the blocking provision from the bill.

"We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers," Smith said in a statement. "Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America's most profitable and productive industries are under attack."

In the Senate, six Republican co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act wrote Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday to ask him to postpone a vote on the bill scheduled for Jan. 24.

"We must have adequate time to properly analyze and resolve these concerns to the best extent possible prior to proceeding to the bill," they wrote.

(Lesley Clark contributed to this article.)

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