Why Have Internet Websites Gone Into a “Blackout”?

Wikipedia, Boing Boing, Reddit and others claim the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are amounting to unfair censorship of the Internet.

Posted: 01/18/2012 05:47 PM EST

If you’re wondering why some of the most popular websites have shut down, it’s because they’re protesting a pair of federal antipiracy bills they say amounted to censorship of the Internet.

In the first strike of its kind, for up to 24 hours on Wednesday, thousands of popular sites including Wikipedia, Boing Boing, Reddit and others shut down in an online grass-roots protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The legislations aim to crack down on foreign websites that traffic in pirated movies, music and counterfeit goods, but the opposing websites claim that censorship of the Internet is like imagining “a world without free knowledge.”

“The purpose of the blackout is twofold: to raise awareness of SOPA and PIPA among the general public, and to encourage people to share their views with their representatives,” Wikipedia’s website reads. “[The legislations] put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves.”

Content groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), CBS Corporation, Viacom, the parent company of BET, and others including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, argue that innovation and jobs in content-creating industries are threatened by growing Internet piracy.

The bills will give the Justice Department power to go after foreign websites facilitating intellectual property theft and force U.S.-based Internet service providers, credit card companies and online advertisers to cut off ties with those sites.

Opponents argue that the bills will give content and IP owners too much power to go after websites they believe are infringing on their rights. In response, sights like Facebook and Google are not participating in the blackout, but are encouraging users to contact their state representatives and tell them to vote against the legislation.

According to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, African-Americans are the most socially active online, leading the other groups in tweeting, blogging and more. Additionally, an estimated 71 percent of Blacks use the Internet.

Congress will decide the fate of Internet censorship on January 24.

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(Photos: Courtesy of Wikipedia.com/Google.com/Reddit.com)