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Internet Blackout Puts Washington Online Piracy Fight In Limelight

Screenshot of Wikipedia landing page.
Wikipedia screenshot
Screenshot of Wikipedia landing page.

SOPA and PIPA (no, they're not the Duchess of Cambridge's sisters) will be on the minds of a lot more people Wednesday because of the online protests by Wikipedia, Google and other popular websites over the anti-piracy legislation with the catchy acronyms currently under consideration in Congress.

If you have somehow been able to avoid until now the whole inside-the-beltway battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act and the expansively named Preventing Real Online Threats To Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 you'll likely be forced to ponder, at least for a few minutes, the fight between corporate titans over property rights and how they should be policed on the Internet.

Media companies want a new law that would compel Internet companies to monitor their sites for purloined copyrighted material and require advertisers and search engines to cut off sites guilty of copyright violations.

Internet companies have responded with warnings that the bills, if passed in anywhere near their current form, could doom the Internet as we know it. Wednesday's online protests are part of the response, an attempt to rally millions of Internet users to descend on Washington with virtual pitchforks to get the legislation changed.

On Wikipedia's landing page for its protest, it explains:

"In a world in which politicians regulate the Internet based on the influence of big money, Wikipedia — and sites like it — cannot survive."

Of course, Wikipedia has big money on its side, too, since Google has been spending ever more on lobbying in Washington on this and other issues, both directly and through industry groups.

PC World has a good primer for those seeking a bit more understanding of the particulars in this fight. NPR's Morning Edition also had a report on the protest.

The issue has come up on the presidential campaign trail, at least sort of.

Mitt Romney asked in New Hampshire about SOPA specifically. Romney used a question from an audience member who asked the candidate where he stood on SOPA to go on a tear about regulations harming the private sector.

He then pivoted to attack President Obama, telling a group of business owners. "I don't think the president likes business very much. I love you. I love the fact that you're in business..."

As Techdirt pointed out from Romney's answer it was hard to divine exactly what the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination would change about SOPA or PIPA.

Also, it wasn't Obama and nebulous "regulators" who crafted SOPA and contributed the ideas that went into it but Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, and media company lobbyists.

The Hill reported Tuesday that Smith was dismissive of the protests by some of the Internet's best-known brand names:

"It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act," Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. "The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.