On November 16, online activists plan to publicize their cause in the ongoing standoff over the media industry's crackdown on the illegal downloading of copyrighted content. As part of the campaign to block two major pieces of federal anti-piracy legislation, the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy/E-Parasites Act (SOPA) in the House, a wide range of web sites will redact their own logos in facetious celebration of American Censorship Day.
The bills now before Congress would seek to stem illegal downloads by allowing the government to block offending web sites. The lead groups behind the protest--including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress and other digital-activist outfits--contend that they represent a dangerous abrogation of free-speech rights.
The bills enjoy support from many major media and content producers, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the Recording Industry Association of America and NBCUniversal. Industry groups argue that blocking user access to offending sites is the best protection against digital piracy, which costs them billions in revenues.
Free speech advocates counter that the bills set a dangerous precedent, giving the United States government the power to blacklist unwanted material even as it scolds China and Syria for doing the same.
Many technology firms oppose the measures, arguing that it amounts to an undue burden on their business models and would thwart innovation--in essence, stifling the next YouTube or Facebook before it even begins. The netCoalition, a group including Amazon, Bloomberg, Google, eBay, Wikipedia, and Yahoo!, says the legislation, while well-intentioned, threatens the technology industry "by overturning the laws which helped fuel the tech boom of the last decade and instituting new regulations which would stifle innovation and job creation." When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of the bills, Yahoo! and Apple withdrew their memberships from the business lobby. Google and the Consumer Electronics Association are considering breaking ties with the Chamber as well over the issue.
Prominent venture capitalist Fred Wilson captured the sentiment of many in the tech world well:
The content industry is not creating new jobs right now. The tech industry, led by startups, have created all the net new jobs in the past five years. Companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and startups like Dropbox, Kickstarter, and Twilio are the leading exporters and job creators of this time. They are the golden goose of the economy and we cannot kill the golden goose to protect industries in decline.
If your favorite web site's logo is redacted November 16, you'll know that its producers feel much the same way.