Tech companies like Google, Twitter and Amazon have made no secret of their opposition to anti-piracy proposals currently under consideration on Capitol Hill. So far, however, their efforts have been limited to lobbying Congress against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (pending in the House) and Protect-IP Act (in the Senate).
But this week reports have swirled that the companies are considering a more radical approach: a blackout to protest the measures. Markham Erickson, the executive director of NetCoalition (whose members are major tech companies), told Fox News that companies like Google, Twitter and Amazon were considering going dark for a brief time later this month. The Senate is slated to vote on the bill (also known as PIPA) on Jan. 24, fueling speculation that the blackout would occur on Jan. 23.
Today, however, NetCoalition issued a statement that makes the prospect of a blackout seem unlikely -- though still leaves open the possibility. "Internet and technology companies will continue to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on the problems with the PIPA. An 'Internet blackout' would obviously be both drastic and unprecedented,” Erickson stated. “We hope that the Senate will cancel its scheduled vote on PIPA so that we can get back to working with members on how to address the concerns raised by the MPAA and others without threatening our nation’s security or future innovation and jobs.
As stunts go, a joint blackout could certainly serve to increase public awareness of the pending legislation; currently, it seems unlikely that too many people outside of the tech community have even heard of the bills. A blackout accompanied by a call to action also could easily result in overloaded switchboards on Capitol Hill. Of course, a concerted blackout also could prove extremely costly to Web companies.
The anti-piracy bills under consideration go a lot further than current laws regarding infringement. The proposals, which target sites “dedicated” to infringement, would allow courts to order search engines to stop returning certain results. The bills also provide for orders directing credit card companies to stop doing business with sites. Additionally, Internet service providers could be ordered to stop putting traffic through to certain domain names -- though people could still reach the sites by typing in its numerical address.
Hollywood says the bills are needed to deal with offshore sites that offer pirated movies. The operators of those sites often can't be found, much less hauled into court in the U.S.
But opponents say measures could result in censorship of legitimate material as well as “rogue” sites. Critics also say that the laws could discourage companies from hosting user-generated content because it appears to impose new duties on Web companies to police their sites. On top of that, tinkering with the domain name system could put the entire Web architecture at risk, according to security experts.
Separately, joining the roster of opponents is former Vice President Al Gore, who recently criticized the pending bills in a speech. A clip was uploaded to YouTube yesterday afternoon, but has since been removed.