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Sites voluntarily shutter in protest of Internet bills in Congress

January 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Beginning at midnight Wednesday, you may not be able to log on to some of your favorite websites. That's because of an online protest by thousands of websites against two bills proposed in Congress.

It is estimated that some 7,000 websites will go dark Wednesday for 24 hours. It is part of a mass protest against two anti-piracy bills on the docket in Congress. Opponents say the bills are basically censorship, while one U.S. senator says the protest is an abuse of power.

There is a Hollywood-versus-Silicon Valley battle being waged in Washington, D.C., while computer users independently log on to the Internet.

Congress is considering two anti-piracy bills aimed at keeping copyrighted material such as movies, songs and books from being illegally reproduced on the Internet.

It hasn't happened yet. One bill in the House of Representatives is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The Senate bill is the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) supports the legislation. In a statement, the organization said: "The failure to pass meaningful legislation will result in overseas websites continuing to be a safe haven for criminals stealing and profiting from America."

But opponents say that legislation would be tantamount to censorship of the Web.

An organizer of a planned 24-hour blackout includes the website FightForTheFuture.org. The site says: "The fight will continue until we get the final say from members of Congress that these bills will be dropped."

And going along with it appears to be the Obama administration, which said in a blog post on the White House website Tuesday: "We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Among those participating in the online revolution are the encyclopedia website Wikipedia, the Internet-service provider Mozilla Firefox and the social news website Reddit.

Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo are not participating in the blackout but have vocally opposed the bills.

However, all of them agree with the MPAA that illegal online piracy of films and other intellectual content is a major problem that threatens American jobs, and that something must be done to combat piracy.

The latest word is that voting on the bill in the House is on hold for now while the Senate bill is scheduled for a procedural vote a week from Tuesday.

Meantime, Congress is asking for the public to express their opinion on the matter.