Internet blackout fuels SOPA backlash

Some legislators have asked for more time to review the bill.

Luke Miller

Multiple websites, including Internet giant Wikipedia, shut down in some form on Wednesday to protest contentious anti-piracy legislation.

The blackout was in response to SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, which many see as potentially devastating government censorship.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas introduced SOPA in the House of Representatives in October. The billâÄôs primary intent is to grant the government greater control of Internet sites with the hope of curbing copyright infringement.

As pirating of movies, music and television shows has increased with the proliferation of the Internet, legislators are hoping to find a way to protect intellectual and electronic property.

Amy Sanders, a University of Minnesota professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication who specializes in law and new technology, said that most citizens and websites fear that the bills will infringe on their First Amendment rights. SOPA would grant the federal government power to increase levels of censorship and regulation that many feel would violate the right to free speech on the Internet, she said.

The bill may also be ineffective, Sanders said. The Internet operates globally, but the U.S. government only has jurisdiction within the U.S. Piracy websites could easily move outside the country and not have to legally face the regulations of SOPA, she said.

Websites hope WednesdayâÄôs blackout will help raise awareness about SOPA and stop its passage in Congress.

In addition to WikipediaâÄôs 24-hour shutdown, Reddit also closed down. Other sites, like Google and Wired, blacked-out some of their content in protest.

Sanders said she thinks the blackout has the potential to be very effective. It may have already had some effects on lawmakers.

Several legislators have asked for more time to review the bills, while others have dropped their support completely. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called for new legislation Wednesday to address Internet piracy.

The Minnesota delegation is split on the bills. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, are both cosponsors of PIPA. Rep. Keith Ellison blacked out his website Wednesday in protest of the legislation, and all other Minnesotans in the Househave said they will vote against the SOPA.

âÄúThe Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act would devastate free speech, Internet innovation and job creation,âÄù Ellison said in a statement. âÄúI strongly oppose these bills and believe there are better ways to fight piracy without infringing upon AmericansâÄô right to free speech.âÄù

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called for a vote on PIPA Jan. 24.

Students across campus were affected by the blackout.

One student, Zoë LaLonde, found herself reminded of the blackout multiple times Wednesday with the occasional visit to Google or click on a Wikipedia link. As an art major, LaLonde has a personal interest in SOPAâÄôs effects, as artists use the Internet to spread their work.

LaLonde educated her family and friends about the legislation. Other students also have used social media to bring awareness to the bill or even cut their personal Internet use.

Sanders said that this legislation has a major impact on college students who are connected to the Internet constantly.