Blogs & Comment

Google, Wikipedia and more stage public protest over SOPA/PIPA

Tech companies use a variety of tactics to illustrate opposition to controversial anti-piracy legislation.


Wikipedia went black on Jan. 18, 2012, displaying this message in protest of SOPA and PIPA.

Many leading internet companies chose Jan. 18 to register their opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, known as SOPA in the House of Representatives and PIPA in the Senate. Both pieces of legislation are widely supported by the entertainment industry. But a plethora of web players oppose the laws. In protest, many, like Wikipedia, Reddit and BoingBoing, are going dark for the day, suspending services to effectively show what they anticipate would be the effect of these bills if passed.

Google, also a staunch opponent of the bills, announced on Jan. 17 that it would be post a link on the company’s home page today to notify users of the company’s stance on the issue.

Twitter also chose to stay live but CEO Dick Costolo said the company will look into how to use its platform to encourage discussion about the bills. In response to critics calling for Twitter to go dark, on Jan. 16 Costolo tweeted that “closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,” and “Not shutting down a service doesn’t equal not taking the proper stance on an issue. We’ve been very clear about our stance.”

Meanwhile, Twitter has also been used as a soapbox for both sides of the issue. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tweeted on the 16th, to the horror of university professors everywhere, “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!”

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has used his Twitterfeed to show his support for the bills. Some of his messages include, “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery;” “Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying;” “Google great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint, and it’s important;” “Just been to google search for mission impossible. Wow, several sites offering free links. I rest my case.”

Google naturally responded, calling Murdoch’s accusations (save for the “great company” bit, presumably) “nonsense.”

Despite Murdoch’s Tweet Offensive, there are signs that as the Silicon Alley crowd gets louder in its condemnation, momentum is shifting. The White House has released a statement that criticizes the bills and House majority leader Eric Cantor reportedly has said that SOPA would be shelved for the time being. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over, as another proposed bill, The Research Works Act has been dubbed SOPAv2.

For Canadians wondering just how all this affects them, Canada’s Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law and Toronto Star columnist Michael Geist serves up plenty of reasons and has written extensively on the issue. As he pointed out in a column late last year, SOPA’s enforcement would certainly include Canada because it defines a “domestic domain name” as any registered or assigned by a domain name registrar, registry, or other registration authority located within a judicial district of the United States. And, as Geist wrote, “Since every dot-com, dot-net and dot-org domain is managed by a domain name registry in the U.S., the law effectively asserts jurisdiction over tens of millions of domain names regardless of where the registrant actually resides.”

PIPA is scheduled for a Senate vote on Jan. 24.