Published December 30, 2011
In the growing battle for the future of the Web, some of the biggest sites online -- Google, Facebook, and other tech stalwarts -- are considering a coordinated blackout of their sites, some of the web’s most popular destinations.
No Google searches. No Facebook updates. No Tweets. No Amazon.com shopping. Nothing.
The action would be a dramatic response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill backed by the motion picture and recording industries that is intended to eliminate theft online once and for all. HR 3261 would require ISPs to block access to sites that infringe on copyrights -- but how exactly it does that has many up in arms. The creators of some of the web's biggest sites argue it could instead dramatically restrict law-abiding U.S. companies -- and reshape the web as we know it.
A blackout would be drastic. And though the details of exactly how it would work are unclear, it's already under consideration, according to Markham Erickson, the executive director of NetCoalition, a trade association that includes the likes of Google, PayPal, Yahoo, and Twitter.
“Mozilla had a blackout day and Wikipedia has talked about something similar,” Erickson told FoxNews.com, calling this kind of operation unprecedented.
"A number of companies have had discussions about that," he said.
With the Senate debating the SOPA legislation at the end of January, it looks as if the tech industry’s top dogs are finally adding bite to their bark, something CNET called "the nuclear option."
"When the home pages of Google.com, Amazon.com, Facebook.com, and their Internet allies simultaneously turn black with anti-censorship warnings that ask users to contact politicians about a vote in the U.S. Congress the next day on SOPA,” Declan McCullagh wrote, “you’ll know they’re finally serious.”
“This type of thing doesn’t happen because companies typically don’t want to put their users in that position,” Erickson explained. “The difference is that these bills so fundamentally change the way the Internet works. People need to understand the effect this special-interest legislation will have on those who use the Internet.”
The polarizing movement has many critics but also equally strong and diverse support, including most major media companies as well as businesses like 3M, Adidas, Burberry, CVS and more. News Corp., the parent company of FoxNews.com, also supports the law.
"SOPA targets foreign websites that sell counterfeit drugs and stolen copies of Hollywood movies -- not such American Web sites as YouTube or your favorite blog," wrote Richard Bennett, senior research fellow at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, in an editorial in the New York Post.
The law is necessary to deal with those sites, he said.
"Internet criminals selling bogus drugs or pirated movies simply set up shop in China or a distant island republic, knowing that they won't be harassed by law enforcement regardless of how many U.S. lives or jobs they endanger."
But opposition to the legislation has grown substantially louder in recent weeks as the vote looms.
On November 15, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to Washington warning of SOPA's dangers. "We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation's cybersecurity," the letter argued
Google co-founder Sergey Brin himself has loudly denounced the bill. “While I support their goal of reducing copyright infringement (which I don't believe these acts would accomplish), I am shocked that our lawmakers would contemplate such measures that would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world,” Brin wrote on Google+ social networking site earlier this month.
Others have taken a more proactive approach, voting with their dollars against those who support the bill. GoDaddy.com, one of the largest domain registrars on the Internet, stands to potentially lose thousands of customers on Thursday, Dec. 29, or “Dump GoDaddy Day,” the culmination of an ongoing boycott of the company.
Microblogging site Tumblr generated 87,834 calls to Congress with its own anti-SOPA campaign -- a total of 1,293 total hours spent talking to representatives.
Hollywood and the recording industry have maintained the bill's necessity in the name of piracy. "Rogue Web sites that steal America's innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs," the U.S. Chambers of Commerce wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times.
But Erickson believes this is “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of response.”
“People take the Internet very personally," Erickson told FoxNews.com. “It’s a very important part of their lives."