The OpBlackOut protest has launched, seeing groups ranging from the hacktivist Anonymous collective, unknown bloggers and massive sites such as Wikipedia unite to protest the US Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa).
Sopa and Pipa
Designed to combat online piracy, since being announced the Sopa bill has come under wide-spread criticism, with numerous groups voicing concerns about the new powers the act could grant US law enforcement. A common concern is the suggestion that the act will allow police to arrest, fine and potentially jail individuals for seemingly minor offences, such as uploading a copyrighted video onto YouTube.
Despite comments to the contrary by Republican Representative Lamar Smith, following the widespread disapproval of the bill, certain key parts of Sopa were removed or amended. Following the changes to the bill, attention turned to Sopa's younger brother, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa).
If approved, Pipa would still grant US authorities the power to block access to certain sites - effectively letting them censor the internet. Specifically, Pipa would give the US Justice Department the power to target "rogue" sites - which many US publications have wrongly listed as being specifically "foreign" - sites linking to, or containing protected intellectual property.
Worse still, as well as the ability to force US internet service providers to block access to the sites, the bill would let the Justice Department force credit card companies and online advertisers to cut their ties - cutting off the site's cash flow.
Anonymous' OpBlackOut Protest
Following Sopa's announcement, the Anonymous collective immediately voiced its discontent, announcing OpBlackOut in November, 2011. The campaign promised to see the collective mount a cyber vandalism campaign defacing the sites of companies supporting Sopa.
As well as the promised acts of defacement the collective has also taken more direct action, publishing the the names and decisions of U.S. Congressman participating in the vote on Pastebin. Anonymous is also currently mounting similar anti-censorship campaigns in Finland and the Netherlands protesting blocks to the Pirate Bay website.
Following the operations launch the collective has used its Twitter feeds to publicise the protest, tweeting and retweeting links to sites that have blacked out their front pages or posted anti-Sopa and Pipa statements.
Google and Wikipedia Join the Cause
Following Anonymous' announcement the protest has escalated, seeing numerous legitimate companies and blogs join the OpBlackOut cause. Rather than defacing other sites, the companies and bloggers have chosen to mount their own form of protest, blacking out their own sites with anti-Sopa and Pipa messages.
As well as games industry titans like Electronic Arts and Nintendo, two of the biggest companies to join Anonymous and the general public's protest are Wikipedia and Google.
After issuing its own anti-Sopa and Pipa statement, on OpBlackOut's scheduled 18 January start, Wikipedia made good on its promise blacking out its homepage. "If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States," read Wikipedia's statement.
Though it hasn't gone so far as to black out its front page - instead simply censoring its logo - tech-giant Google has similarly voiced its disapproval of the two acts, publishing its own statement. Not mincing its words Google clarified that if passed "PIPA & SOPA will censor the web" and that "PIPA & SOPA will risk our industry's track record of innovation and job creation," finally adding "PIPA & SOPA will not stop piracy."
Citing these reasons, Google finally stated:
"Because we think there's a good way forward that doesn't cause collateral damage to the web, we're joining Wikipedia, Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Mozilla and other Internet companies in speaking out against SOPA and PIPA. And we're asking you to sign a petition and join the millions who have already reached out to Congress through phone calls, letters and petitions asking them to rethink SOPA and PIPA."
For a full look at the sites participating in the OpBlackOut protest check out the International Business Times UK's summary here.