Websites Shut Down To Protest Anti-Piracy Bills

Jan 18, 2012
Originally published on January 18, 2012 6:22 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

We should fully explain this next report, because if we miss something, you won't be able to find more information on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia is blacked-out today, at least on personal computers. It's only available if you take extra steps or use a mobile device.

MONTAGNE: It's one of the many online protests against proposed legislation in Congress against Internet piracy. This battle reflects a conflict of economic interests.

INSKEEP: On one side are enterprises like Google and Wikipedia that traffic in masses of free information and video programming. Hollywood companies want to be sure they're paid for programming.

NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: If you were planning to use Wikipedia today, to check if you check facts for your term paper or to settle a bet, you'll have to look elsewhere. All you will find on Wikipedia is a note about the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is currently being debated in the House of Representatives, and its sister bill PIPA, the Protect IP Act in the Senate. Same goes for the popular Web sites Reddit and Boing Boing. These sites and many more have gone dark to protest what they consider to be two very bad bills.

Eric Martin is general manager of Reddit.

ERIC MARTIN: The definitions of the language in the provisions are extremely vague and extremely broad. And it would seem to be written without anybody who knew the technology. So, there's a lot of technologically, sort of, ignorant language in there.

ROSE: At a press conference yesterday, Martin and others in the tech world said SOPA and PIPA would go way beyond their stated intentions of reining in online piracy. Critics say the bills could put sites that depend on user-generated content out of business, and could end up curtailing freedom of speech.

But the entertainment industry says tough new rules are needed to protect American movies and music from so-called rogue Web sites, foreign-based sites that specialize in copyright infringement. Here's a TV ad produced by the trade group Creative America.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CREATIVE AMERICA AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They traffic in phony medications and stolen movies, TV shows and music. They're stealing American ideas and innovation.

ROSE: While Hollywood has thrown money and lobbying clout at the problem, Silicon Valley has taken its message online. Josh Levy is campaign director at the nonprofit Free Press, which helped organize today's protest.

JOSH LEVY: This is, I would say, the biggest revolt that we've seen online against big corporations when they try to close the open Internet.

ROSE: To be fair, there are big companies on Levy's the side of the debate, too. Google, eBay, and Facebook have all come out against the bills, which they say could lead to a loss of investment and innovation. And there are some signs that message is getting through to lawmakers.

Over the weekend, the White House said it would not support SOPA or PIPA, as currently written. And the bills momentum, with which seemed unstoppable just last month, slowed a bit during the congressional recess.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This law would be a threat to me and to my users.

ROSE: During a call-in show on Vermont Public Radio last week, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrat Patrick Leahy, took tough questions about PIPA from his constituents.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: A number of the concerns I've heard expressed are being taken care of. It's the draconian bill that some describe, it's not going to get five votes in the United States. If it is the kind of bill that writers and publishers and Chamber of Commerce say it is, then it will pass.

ROSE: Leahy now says he's willing to drop one of the most controversial provisions from the bill, language that would essentially allow law enforcement to block Web sites from the Internet over alleged copyright infringement. So has his counterpart in the House, but Republican Lamar Smith of Texas says his committee will resume hearings on SOPA next month. And back on the Senate side, majority leader Harry Reid said over the weekend, on "Meet the Press," that he still wants a vote on PIPA when the Senate returns from recess.

SENATOR HARRY REID: There's some issues that have come up. But I think we need to have this a winner for everyone, not just for the content people. It's important that we try to do this on a fair basis, and I'm going to do everything I can to get that done.

ROSE: But whatever gets done, it now seems that SOPA and PIPA will look very different than they did just a few months ago.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Now, if you're having trouble accessing information without Wikipedia and other sites, we can help today. Send a tweet with your question. Add the hashtag altwiki. That's A-L-T-Wiki. NPR is teaming up with The Washington Post and the Guardian to provide reference material today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.