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Web blackout discussed to protest SOPA

If you haven’t heard about SOPA and PIPA from the people in your online circles already, you will probably learn about it soon, especially if the major Web companies mentioned in this story do what they are threatening to do.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, HR 3261, is a bill proposed by Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith. It seeks to give the government the power to block foreign-based websites that are pirating American companies, often at the request of copyright holders.

Critics say it could create an environment online in which even legal sites could be shut down or blacklisted simply because one of their users posted something that could possibly infringe on someone’s intellectual property.

They worry that the language of the bill would allow the law to be abused by media companies and copyright holders, making it nearly impossible and economically ruinous to maintain sites that display user-generated content. This could create an economic environment hostile to startups and new investment, which would stifle development online and, to some critics’ minds, kill the Internet.

Fox News and other outlets reported today that Google, Amazon, Facebook and other major companies are considering a blackout. Users of those major sites would see anti-censorship warnings instead of their usual content, along with links urging them to contact their representatives in Washington.

From Fox News, quoting Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition:

“This type of thing doesn’t happen because companies typically don’t want to put their users in that position … 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.”