Social news site Reddit will black out its site for 12 hours on January 18 to protest the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act SOPA bill that is currently working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales said that his firm may also conduct a protest blackout, though it remains unclear whether the site will join Reddit.
In a blog post earlier this week, Reddit team members said they have decided to black out the site next Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST in a bid to draw attention to SOPA.
"Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit," the blog noted. PIPA, is an acronym for the Protect IPA Act, a U.S. Senate version of SOPA.
"A few months ago, many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there's a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation," the Reddit team wrote.
Visitors to Reddit's site on Jan. 18 will be presented with a live video stream of a hearing by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on DNS and search engine blocking.
In a note on Wikipedia, Wales expressed his support for Reddit's blackout.
"I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit," Wales wrotes. " I'd like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does ... is a good idea," he wrote.
SOPA was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Lamar Smith (R-Va.). It is co-sponsored by John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and several other lawmakers.
SOPA is ostensibly designed to make it easier for U.S. copyright and IP owners to take action against foreign sites dedicated to selling counterfeit goods, fake prescription drugs and copyrighted movies, music and other content. SOPA supporters claim such sites cause tens of billions of dollars in losses annually to U.S. companies.
The bill enjoys support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and predictable quarters such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. It also has garnered wide support from a majority of state attorneys general, law enforcement officials, hundreds of trade unions and industry groups.
Opponents say that while the intent of the bill is good, the provisions in it would lead to a form of Internet censorship.
One of the biggest concerns is a provision that would require U.S. ISPs and search engine sites to block access to U.S. directed foreign sites that are deemed as engaging in copyright infringement and IP theft.
SOPA would allow copyright and IP owners to get court orders which they can use to force payment services companies and online advertising networks to cut off services to foreign sites that are deemed to be infringing copyright.
The bill encourages ISPs to do DNS blocking and filtering, which many Internet security advocates have warned is very risky.
Importantly, opponents say, the wording of the bill could find legitimate sites theoretically running afoul of its provisions, even if just a single page contains infringing material.
Though SOPA proponents insist the bill is targeted purely at rogue foreign sites, many opponents are convinced that any site, especially those based on user generated content such as YouTube and Reddit and Wikipedia could become a target.
"We wouldn't do this if we didn't believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it," Reddit members wrote in their post. "Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community."
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more on the controversy over SOPA.