The ever-controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation has caused yet another stir among the online community, with a number of popular Internet websites removing their pages for the duration the day on Wednesday. The so-called “blackout” is in protest of two pieces of pending U.S. anti-piracy legislation: the aforementioned SOPA (The Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (The Protect IP Act).

Granted, companies that stand to lose revenue from online users who upload videos, music, and other material that can be accessed by users for free should have every right to protect their endeavors. But anti-piracy isn’t the crux of the matter, according to many participating in the online blackout protest.

Writing for the New York Times, Jenna Wortham noted that Wikipedia–who has drawn the most attention for their full-scale blackout–said the move “was meant to spark greater public opposition to the bills, which could restrict its freedom to publish.” A number of websites and online companies have expressed fears that the legislation, while aimed at curtailing piracy, may have the undesirable effect of granting virtually unlimited power to government that could be used to shut down sites offering such content.

Similar protests were appearing online at sites such as Flickr, which featured the “darkened” Wikipedia images, including messages such as this:

A Flickr user has darkened this photo for up to 24 hours as a symbolic gesture to raise awareness about the potential impact of two pieces of pending U.S. anti-piracy legislation – SOPA (The Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (The Protect IP Act).

While the inclusion of this blackout screen is merely a symbolic gesture — not an actual allegation that this photo violates any copyright — a user wanted you to take note of the harmful impact these bills could have on innovation online.

Two versions of the bill, the House’s SOPA bill and a similar Protect IP Act before the Senate, have nonetheless drawn support from a number of major media companies, whose hope for protecting their operation garnered favor amidst the controversies involved with the legislation. Information and technology experts–especially those opposing the new regulation–view protests such as that being carried out by Wikipedia as a first serious test of political strength for the World Wide Web, which seems to be drawing closer to regulatory control as its use and popularity have become widespread.

Elsewhere: Fox News: “Wikipedia Goes Dark for 24 Hours…”… and New York Times: “Web-wide protest over two antipiracy bills”

Image by Tobias Vemmenby Via Flickr.

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