Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soooooo, did the black out work?

"The Internet flexes its muscles with blackout"

Thousands of websites go dark to marshal opposition to federal anti-piracy bills.


Andrea Chang and Jim Puzzanghera

January 18th, 2012

The Los Angeles Times

In cutting off access to thousands of websites for a day, the tech industry flexed its political muscle with a don't-mess-with-the-Web campaign that highlighted its vast reach and how indispensable the Internet has become.

The sweeping blackout to protest federal anti-piracy bills sparked frustration and confusion Wednesday but had its intended effect — disrupting the usual flow of the Internet while mobilizing opposition among online users and lawmakers.

More than 10,000 websites participated in the strike against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, bills that opponents say could lead to censorship online and force some websites out of business. Some, including Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing, shut down for the day, while others such as Craigslist and Google protested by blacking out parts of their sites and urging users to sign online petitions and contact members of Congress.

Shortly after midday, Google said 4.5 million people had signed its petition. Meanwhile, Wikipedia said 5.5 million people had clicked through the blackout message on its home page for information on how to contact their local lawmakers.

"We're pretty staggered by that number," said Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation. He said the site was advising users to call lawmakers instead of emailing them after getting reports that congressional inboxes were flooded and servers were facing capacity issues.

The impact of Wednesday's action raised the possibility of a bigger and broader Internet strike that could lead to a virtual information blackout. The biggest Internet companies such as Google and Facebook did not shut down — they could have lost millions of dollars in advertising revenue — but expressed their support online.

"Technology has grown as a part of our lives and the companies now have something of value that they can withhold in terms of services, which is a shift in the overall political landscape," said Colin Gillis, a technology analyst at BGC Financial. "Is this spawning a new level of activism? I'd say absolutely yes."

Despite unprecedented publicity ahead of the strike, many Internet users were caught off guard.

"I support what they're doing, but to be honest, I would have preferred to see more what Google did: Leave the service available but make a point," said Burbank resident Robert Rose, 45, who was irritated when he couldn't access some of his favorite websites. The marketing consultant vented on Twitter, writing "BlackoutWorking."

With millions flooding Capitol Hill with emails and calls, some supporters of the legislation publicly backed away.

Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) withdrew as co-sponsors of the Senate bill. Meanwhile, Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) said they were pulling their names from the companion House bill. Some other lawmakers also said they would not support the bills, endangering the push to quickly pass the legislation early this year.

Backed by Hollywood and media activists, the two bills aim to crack down on foreign websites that traffic in pirated movies, music and counterfeit goods. But Web companies argue that the proposed legislation is about more than piracy and digital copyright protection. They say the broad language of the bills would thwart free speech online and could stifle the Internet economy, hurt the creative process and drive up legal costs.

"Given the legitimate vocal concerns, it is imperative that we take a step back to allow everyone to come together and find a reasonable solution," said Hatch, who had been a strong early supporter before the backlash. He called for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to back off plans to hold a key procedural vote on the bill Tuesday.

Some senators' websites were inaccessible at times Wednesday. And the House saw double its normal Web traffic, said Dan Weiser, a spokesman for the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the House.

In the offices of Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Gold River), the phones were chirping every couple of minutes Wednesday afternoon.

"Every time the phone rings, it's SOPA," Lungren spokesman Brian Kaveney said. One staffer answered about 50 calls alone on the issue Wednesday, dutifully writing down each person's name, ZIP Code and viewpoint, with a promise to forward the information to Lungren.

The office received about 100 calls by midafternoon on SOPA, five times the number of the previous day. Almost all callers opposed the bill, but a few simply sought Lungren's position. He supports the goals of cracking down on foreign piracy websites but has problems with the legislation and wants to slow down the process.

Internet users also flooded social media sites to urge one another to take action. The protest spread offline too, with hundreds of people joining rallies in San Francisco, New York, Washington and other major cities to voice opposition to the bills.

Supporters of the legislation say the Internet companies are misconstruing the bills and drumming up hysteria that is ill-founded.

"I realize some people are nervous because of misinformation about this bill, but I am confident that ultimately the facts will overcome fears," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who has been working to address concerns about the bill. "Contrary to critics' claims, SOPA does not censor the Internet."

Last week, the Internet companies and online activists persuaded the White House to wade into the dispute. While calling for consensus legislation to stop online piracy by foreign websites, Obama administration officials said they would not support the most controversial provision of the two bills — allowing Internet service providers to block access from the U.S. to foreign piracy sites.

Now President Obama could face backlash from some of his traditional backers in Hollywood over his administration's stance. Two senior entertainment executives and Obama donors, who declined to speak on the record, said Wednesday that they would not give the president's reelection effort further financial support because of his position.

Most sites that were blacked out Wednesday contained links to pages with dire warnings, such as Reddit's: "There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet."

Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit, said there were about 30,000 viewers on the social news community at any given time during the site's 12-hour shutdown.

That was "far less than we usually get," he said. "But 30,000 people looking at one single page with links to take action is pretty impressive."

"Google says 4.5 million people signed anti-SOPA petition today"

January 18th, 2012


Deborah Netburn

The Los Angeles Times

When Google speaks, the world listens.

And today, when Google asked its users to sign a petition protesting two anti-piracy laws circulating in Congress, millions responded.

A spokeswoman for Google confirmed that 4.5 million people added their names to the company's anti-SOPA petition today.

Not too shabby.

The petition, which was available via a link from Google's homepage, states that although fighting online piracy is important, the plan of attack described in the SOPA and PIPA bills would be ineffective.

"There’s no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the Web to thrive, creating millions of U.S. jobs," the petition reads. "Too much is at stake -– please vote NO on PIPA and SOPA."

The search engine frequently delights users by toying with its homepage logo, but on Wednesday it did something it had never done before: it blocked out its logo completely.

A link below the blackout read "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web!" and lead to a page with the petition.

Of course, Google's anti-SOPA and PIPA petition is not the only one out there on this day of mass online protest. As of this writing 1.458 million people signed a similar petition at the activist website, and Fight for the Future said that between its two sites, and, at least 350,000 people have sent emails to representatives in the House and Senate.

A graphic put out by Google shows that before today's coordinated protests, 3 million Americans had signed various petitions against the two bills.

In other SOPA number news, a spokeswoman from the popular blogging platform WordPress, said that at last count, 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the SOPA and PIPA protest by blacking out their blogs entirely, and another 12,500 used the "Stop Censorship" ribbon.

Today, the White House Blog reports that 103,785 people signed petitions through the We The People website asking the president to protect a free and open Internet.

"SOPA and PIPA bills: old answers to 21st-century problems, critics say"

The SOPA and PIPA bills are an attempt by the music and movie industries to hold on to outdated business models, critics say. But finding compromise on anti-piracy laws could be tough.


Gloria Goodale

January 18th, 2012

The Christian Science Monitor

In the face of an Internet rebellion, both senators and members of the House of Representatives are backing away from two anti-piracy bills now making their way through Congress.

But the protests of Internet giants such as Google and Wikipedia, with some essentially shutting down for a day, go beyond the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), consumer activists and academics say. The protests are a call for Congress to reconsider the way it fights digital thievery.

In short, critics say, Congress is looking for a 20th-century answer to a 21st-century challenge.

The intent of the SOPA and PIPA bills is to cut off access to sites that distribute copyrighted material illegally. But critics say it is a heavy-handed solution that won't solve the problem and could quash the sharing and collaboration that fuel innovation on the Internet.

The deeper problem, they suggest, is that the music and film industries simply haven't adapted quickly enough to the new realities of the online world, and are instead trying to use Congress to prop up outdated practices.

“Consumers want easy access to content and many are willing to pay for it – so the onus is on businesses to meet these demands,” says Anjelika Petrochenko, general manager at, a site that hosts online bloggers, journals, and discussion threads.

While there are exceptions, she says, “SOPA/PIPA legislation is a poorly written excuse for intellectual-property owners to hide their own inability to adapt.”

Industry leaders disagree. In a statement Wednesday, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said that sites participating in the blackout are "irresponsible" and "resorting to stunts that punish their users." Chief Executive Chris Dodd, a former US senator, said the blackouts are an "abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace.”

The concern among critics of the legislation is that broad-brush strokes by Congress could damage web ventures that seek to find innovative ways of distributing content in the digital realm.

“SOPA will prevent innovation in order to prevent piracy," says Vince Leung, cofounder of the social media site,

Napster was shut down for free file-sharing, he points out, “but Apple/iTunes was an innovative and inexpensive way for consumers to purchase music.”

Rather than shutting down services which provide jobs, efficiency, and value to their users, he adds, “the SOPA supporters should think how the business model needs to change with the times.”

Faced with the protests, supporters of the bills have begun to respond. Sens. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Jon Cornyn (R) of Texas, and Roy Blunt (R) of Missouri have distanced themselves from the Senate bill, PIPA.

While Senator Rubio says he remains committed to fighting piracy, he wrote on his Facebook page that he has "heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government's power to impact the Internet."

The statement from the MPAA suggests that finding common ground could be difficult, if not nearly impossible, says Deborah Sweeney, CEO of, a business services firm that helps startups launch.

Nevertheless, the reality is that neither party may be wrong, she adds via e-mail. “They just have to work together (a nearly impossible feat)…. No one likes piracy, but the potential impact of SOPA is far more broad than the legislators likely anticipated.“

The biggest challenge, she notes, is that “the two sides are not speaking the same language.”

"SOPA: Shouting in the Dark"


Amy Davidson

January 18th, 2012

The New Yorker

Sometimes it can be easier to think in the dark, or easier to yell. The blackout today of the English-language Wikipedia pages, and Boing Boing and a string of others, had that effect. Even Google averted its eyes, or at least its icon, covering it with a black strip. The action was a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the Protect I.P. Act; Nicholas Thompson explained this morning why both are very bad ideas—masses of restraint that, in the name of protecting intellectual property, would cause an entire marketplace of ideas to seize up and then fall apart. The protest itself was an act of faith in politics as it is meant to be practiced. Until now, as Thompson points out, whether a legislator supported the bills or not tended to have little to do with ideology and very much to do with campaign donations. By shutting down the sites, the tech companies weren’t exerting economic pressure on anyone; they were setting up a black backdrop for a placard that said, in short, read more, and then write to your legislator. There was some information Wikipedia freely gave out today, in the conviction that it would be put to use: if you entered a zip code, you go to the names, contact information, and Twitter handles for your congressman and senators. That is all good to know.

So did it work? So far, so good: three Senators, Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, and Orrin Hatch, and a clutch of congressmen have changed their positions. Hatch said that the bill had turned out to be “not ready for prime time”—in a few years, will anyone know what hours, and what medium, that expression originally referred to? It has the markings of a future lexicological trivia question; for now, though, it is simply a reminder that many conflicting eras and interests are represented in this fight.

Some darkness on the Internet

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