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Internet giants consider blackout to protest SOPA

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Hundreds of companies, web founders, online organizations, human rights advocates, academics, experts and entrepreneurs have publicly signed that they are against the bills. (Source: netCoalition.com) Hundreds of companies, web founders, online organizations, human rights advocates, academics, experts and entrepreneurs have publicly signed that they are against the bills. (Source: netCoalition.com)

(RNN) - Popular websites and internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and AOL are considering shutting down in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA - a controversial bill that has critics and supporters battling each other in Congress before it even reaches the House floor.

"There have been some serious discussions about that," Markham Erickson, head of the NetCoalition trade association told CNET. "It has never happened before."

NetCoalition represents companies such as Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Ebay and Wikipedia and was founded, in part, to stop the passage of SOPA and its senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, or PIPA.

"Clearly, what happened with the PIPA companion bill, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House at the end of 2011 ignited the Internet community like never before," Erickson said in a statement.

The blackout option is receiving support from many users who depend on the services of the web giants considering the blackout.  

"I'm glad companies like Google are doing things like this to raise awareness," said Daniel Horton of Huntsville, AL, on WAFF-TV's Facebook page.

Horton, a web and graphic designer for the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said the proposed bill would turn the web into a police state, inhibiting sites that promote sharing and communication.

The tech giants are following in the footsteps of other websites in what is quickly becoming a showdown between the internet and Hollywood.

A recent Wikipedia blackout successfully got the Italian parliament to back down on a similar measure in October when the Italian branch of the website went offline.

"An 'internet blackout' would obviously be both drastic and unprecedented," Erickson said in a statement.

The proposed blackout comes after fierce debate in the House Judiciary Committee just before Christmas, with supporters of the bill refusing to hear any expert input on the subject, and voting along party lines.

Supporters of the bill said it would create and protect American jobs, while keeping foreign, rogue websites at bay.

"The impact of intellectual property theft by rogue sites is felt in countless ways and across every creative genre, from romance authors, to church and gospel music songwriters, to independent filmmakers," Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars said in a statement.

"The Stop Online Piracy Act represents welcome action by the Congress to protect American businesses and jobs."

But critics said the bill would cost more jobs than it would potentially protect by shutting down the tech industry, and would effectively isolate American internet access from the rest of the world.

On Dec. 15, 80 internet engineers, builders of the internet itself, sent a signed, open letter to the United States Congress opposing the bill.

The letter implored the U.S. Congress to put an end to the bill and PIPA. It also said the bill would only serve to damage the security of the network and "give authoritarian governments more power over what their citizens can read and publish."

"We cannot have a free and open Internet unless its naming and routing systems sit above the political concerns and objectives of any one government or industry," the letter read.

"Senators, Congressmen, we believe the Internet is too important and too valuable to be endangered in this way, and implore you to put these bills aside."

So why are the bills drawing so much heated debate from both sides?

It's because SOPA targets not only online piracy, counterfeit drugs and products, but also any organization that is remotely affiliated with them, whether they engage in illegal activities or not.

Under the proposed bill, entities like search engines, payment systems and advertisers would have to stop payments, advertising and business with potentially infringing websites or face prosecution.

Also, it would expand criminal offenses to anyone who not only downloads copyright material, or "pirating," but anyone who streams copyright material.

That means uploading a video of your child singing along to their favorite song to YouTube could potentially be considered illegal use of copyright material, since you are streaming a copyrighted song for others to view.

Copyright holders, such as Viacom or Disney, would ultimately have the power, and be able to take down offending websites by notifying the Attorney General. Penalties would be extended to service providers if action is not taken against the website.

Critics were able to postpone a vote that would have likely sent the bill to the House until after Congress returns from their holiday vacation, but even that is tenuous. Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, and head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was committed to passing the bill, and said critics have blown it out of proportion.

"The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such," Smith wrote in a blog on The Hill. "The bill addresses the problem of online criminals who steal and sell America's intellectual property and keep the profits for themselves."

Erickson called for the Senate to cancel its vote on PIPA, which is scheduled just hours after Congress returns from its winter break on Jan. 23, and said in light of the SOPA debate, it was "completely inexplicable."

"We hope that the Senate will cancel its scheduled vote on PIPA so that we can get back to working with members on how to address the concerns raised by the MPAA and others without threatening our nation's security or future innovation and jobs."

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