Blog of Rights

The Internet Goes Dark

By Michael Macleod-Ball, Chief of Staff, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:05pm

Yesterday’s Internet blackout of major websites like Wikipedia, Reddit and even the ACLU’s own Northern California affiliate certainly made waves. These tech advocates united to dim their websites in order to protest and bring attention to the anti-piracy legislation pending in the House and Senate.

Though we did not dim our own website, we stood in support of those websites that did and encouraged people to contact their Member of Congress to urge them to fix these flawed pieces of legislation, and in response to our call tens of thousands of you have already taken action. If you haven’t acted yet, tell Congress that the bills need to be fixed so they don’t restrict access to wholly lawful non-infringing content in the course of getting rid of infringing content.

While the protest was originally sparked by the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, it was its sister bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), that seemed to garner the most attention. PIPA was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in May 2011, but Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has had a hold on the bill since it was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in July. Despite the volume of protest, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to go through with a cloture vote, scheduled for January 24th.

After yesterday’s protest, it seems like PIPA is losing its steam. As the protest continued to gain momentum, Senators began pulling their sponsorship of the bill. As of this afternoon, twenty six senators have withdrawn their support, including former cosponsors Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and John Boozman (R-Ark.). While he has not withdrawn his sponsorship, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has said that he does not support the bill in its current form and he believes improvements can be made.

We applaud these senators for stepping forward and encouraging a delay on these bills in order to fine tune the anti-piracy language. Any legislation to reduce online infringement must also protect the First Amendment rights of online content producers and Internet users to post and/or access lawful non-infringing content. We urge those of you concerned about these bills to seize this moment and keep the pressure on your Members of Congress to fix these bills.

To hear more about the ACLU’s position on SOPA and PIPA, you can watch this short Agence France-Press clip with the ACLU’s First Amendment Counsel, Michael Macleod-Ball here.

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