Those in the wireless industry who have been focused on the parade of gadgets from CES last week might be wondering why Wikipedia’s website is down today, replaced with an ominous monochromatic homepage titled “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.”
Wikipedia and other websites including Reddit, Boing Boing, Wordpress and Imgur are participating in an Internet blackout today to protest online piracy legislation circulating in the House and Senate.
The lawmakers supporting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in Congress and the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) say the bills, backed by the entertainment industry, are intended to fight theft of copyrighted content on so-called “rogue” websites, where users can freely view and download content they would otherwise have to pay for.
The entertainment industry says the legislation is necessary to fight pirated content they claim is harming their business.
The wireless industry hasn’t so far expressed much alarm about the bills – analysts at two firms told Wireless Week the legislation won’t directly impact the wireless industry and CTIA has no position on the issue – but Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Mitch Stoltz thinks it would be a mistake to be too complacent.
Because the bills aren’t limited to websites, just “Internet sites,” the bill could apply to any mobile app that uses the Internet and online storefronts that sell apps, like Apple’s App Store, Stoltz says.
“An enterprising plaintiff’s lawyer or media property could use this bill as a legal threat against an app developer that either is dedicated to infringing activities or carries infringing content,” Stoltz says. “As a result, the site that sells the app or the Internet backend for the app could be cut off.”
In essence, any app that contains third-party content – think of all those television clips on YouTube’s app – could be targeted under the legislation. Apps that allow users to upload content also could be vulnerable if that content violates copyright laws.
Both SOPA and PIPA contain provisions that would allow copyright holders – namely top corporations in the entertainment industry – to sue any website that is intentionally or unintentionally hosting pirated content. The language of the legislation is so broad that any website could be held liable if a user uploaded copyrighted content.
The tech industry says the legislation amounts to Internet censorship and would have far-reaching consequences on innovation and security. Google, Facebook, eBay and a slew of other top Internet companies have come out against the proposals and are lobbying legislators to drop the bills.
Opponents to the legislation scored a couple victories this week when President Obama expressed opposition to some of the key provisions in the bill and the House vote on SOPA scheduled for later this month was cancelled.
But the issue is far from dead. The Senate still plans to vote on PIPA on Jan. 24, and the House Judiciary Committee will take up SOPA again in February. If the bills become law, the blackouts we’re seeing today may only be the start of it.
Filed Under: Industry regulations