Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) put a black rectangle over its search logo Jan. 18, linking to a petition page inviting users to protest the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), which the search engine and many others claim will censor the Web.
The link is also live under the search box. Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Mozilla and several other Internet companies are protesting these Congressional bills Jan. 18 because they may require search engines to block access to Websites that host or link to copyrighted material.
The issue for the government and entertainment groups such as the Motion Picture Association of America is that too many Internet companies enable access and payments to overseas Websites that traffic in stolen content.
This is a valid concern, but few in the Internet sector agree with the way Congress wants to go about it. Even the White House opposed SOPA and PIPA in a blog post over the weekend, noting that "we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber-security risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."
Emboldened by this response, Google noted in a blog post Jan. 18:
"PIPA and SOPA will censor the Web. These bills would grant new powers to law enforcement to filter the Internet and block access to tools to get around those filters. We know from experience that these powers are on the wish list of oppressive regimes throughout the world."
Google further argued that SOPA and PIPA also provide incentives for U.S. companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign Websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted Website to seek restitution.
Companies could sue other law-abiding companies in the United States, while pirate sites simply go dark and move to different IP addresses to continue facilitating copyrighted content. The end result is that SOPA and PIPA will impinge the creation of new jobs and innovation.
Google also offered a solution for combating pirates, suggesting that the government cut off funding to foreign rogue Websites. "If you cut off the money flow, you cut the incentive to steal," Google wrote.
Google is one of the more high-profile Internet companies challenging SOPA and PIPA, but it isn't the only one.
Wikipedia is blacking out its Website for 24 hours Jan. 18, posting this note under the heading "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge: For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet." Media figured out how to get into Wikipedia from the desktop and mobile devices.
However, those Websites aren't going dark. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted: "Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish."
Interestingly, these bills aren't technically dead yet, even though the White House publicly condemned them.
Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a sponsor of SOPA, said the House will continue marking up the proposed legislation in February:
"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and members to find ways to combat online piracy."