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Online Piracy Bill Supporters Criticize Website Blackout Online Piracy Bill Supporters Criticize Website Blackout

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Congress / TECHNOLOGY

Online Piracy Bill Supporters Criticize Website Blackout

(Screenshot)

January 17, 2012

Supporters of legislation that seeks to curb piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites Tuesday chided opponents who have pledged to shutter their websites in protest of the measure.

Thousands of websites including Wikipedia and the social news site Reddit have said they will go dark Wednesday to protest the House bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and a similar Senate bill called the Protect IP Act. The legislation is opposed by leading tech firms including Facebook, Google and Yahoo, as well as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, civil libertarians and a growing chorus of Internet activists. The Senate is set to vote on Protect IP next week.

Critics argue that Protect IP and SOPA will stifle innovation and online free speech and in their current forms could harm the integrity and security of the Internet. Even though the bill's sponsors have offered to remove the most controversial provision calling on service providers and others to block access to foreign infringing websites, critics say that change isn't enough. During a conference call Tuesday, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin said the definitions in the bill are "vague and extreme."

The bill's congressional supporters, however, pushed back Tuesday, arguing that opponents are over blowing the impact of the legislation.

"It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act," House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in response to Wikipedia's announcement that it will join the blackout protest. "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."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee, also voiced frustration Tuesday that critics are not offering more concrete proposals to fix the legislation.

"I think that what we need to have is a discourse about what works and what doesn't work," said Goodlatte, who helped draft SOPA, following remarks Tuesday at the annual State of the Net conference. "A blackout doesn't accomplish that. The more important thing here is that people talk to each other rather than blackout their patrons."

Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and CEO Chris Dodd criticized the blackout as a "gimmick." Dodd, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Connecticut, added that the blackout is "designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this 'blackout' to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy." His group is part of a broad coalition of content producers and trademark owners that have been pushing for new tools to combat the growth in piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites.

Critics of SOPA and Protect IP argue that the blackouts show the level of concern at the grassroots level to the legislation.

While not joining the blackout itself, Google has indicated it would post a statement on its homepage Wednesday reiterating its opposition to SOPA and Protect IP. Websites like Craigslist already have posted similar messages on their homepages urging opposition to the legislation.

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