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SOPA: Why the Internet Is Closing for Business

Wikipedia, Reddit, and a host of other popular sites are gearing up for a total blackout on January 18 in protest of the controversial anti-piracy legislation.

In the battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the tech world seems to be gaining ground. In a major protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 (PIPA), a number of high-profile sites are planning a total shutdown for January 18. Among them: Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, Twitpic, Mozilla, The Cheezeburger Network, Major League Gaming, and others.

Wikipedia, the sixth-most-visited website in the world, has been one of the most vocal challengers of the controversial legislation. The  company announced over the weekend that beginning at midnight on January 18, the English version of its site would go dark for 24 hours.

"While we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world," Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said in statement. Later, Wales tweeted "It is a decision of the Wikipedia community."

Several smaller sites and companies have also pledged to shut down on the same day, including Good.is, Tuscows, Red 5, Mojang, and Free Press. To officially join the strike, visit SOPAStrike.com. And if you're concerned about the SEO implications of shutting down, check this out.

Opponents of the bill believe the legislation will harm the free and open nature of the Web and usher in a new set of tools for censorship of international sites that operate within the United States.

"This could obliterate an entire industry—a job creating industry," Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, a user-generated news site, told Inc.com. "Congress doesn't understand how significant the Internet infrastructure really is. This bill wouldn't even solve the issue of online piracy." For one of the most authoritative explications of reasons to hate the bills, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation."

Other sites reject the idea of a blackout, even if they support the anti-SOPA movement. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, for instance, announced Twitter would have nothing to do with the blackout.

"That's just silly," Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted to Radar reporter Alex Howard and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. "Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish."

Over the weekend, Wales and other anti-SOPA advocates picked up a serious ally: President Obama, who hinted at a potential veto of the Acts.

"Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage start-up businesses and innovative firms from growing," wrote three White House staffers, including Aneesh Chopra, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States, in a statement.

On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith announced that there will be changes made to SOPA, which will delay the bill from being heard on January 24.

Does that mean SOPA is dead? Not exactly.

"The fight is still far from over," notes Trevor Timm of the EFF. "Even though The New York Times reported that the White House statement "all but kill[s] current versions of the legislation," the Senate is still poised to bring PIPA to the floor next week, and we can expect SOPA proponents in the House to try to revive the legislation—unless they get the message that these initiatives must stop, now.

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