Two of the Internet’s most popular destinations, Google and Wikipedia, went “black” at 12 a.m. on Wednesday to protest a set of anti-piracy bills, claiming it would amount to censorship. The efforts have not gone unnoticed.
U.S. Representative John Larson, D-Connecticut’s First District, praised the blackout efforts during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon and said there is a lot of work to be done before the bill would be ready to pass as legislation.
“We must find a middle ground,” Larson said. “The technological and grass roots phenomenon seen (Wednesday), I give Google and Wikipedia all the credit in the world for taking their stance, but something does need to be done.”
Over the past week as the two online giants planned their protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, the efforts have garnered the attention of media nationwide and has led to a call for action from American businesses and citizens. The bills proposed are designed to help online piracy, Larson said, but do have components that would threaten to present restrictions on certain freedom of information as well.
In an article published on CNN Wednesday morning, one online publisher spoke out against the legislation and called for changes in the two acts to protect free information.
"Both SOPA and PIPA are threats not just to the U.S. economy, and not just to all the jobs that this tech sector creates, but if they had existed, Steve Huffman and I could have never founded Reddit," said Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded the site. Millions visit Reddit to submit interesting links from websites, discuss them and vote on them, he said, calling it "sort of a democratic front page of the web."
Larson said although there are some strong points regarding potential censorship, there are still concerns that need to be addressed in regard to online piracy – points made clear by artists, record and movie labels and other who are losing money as a result of the “free information.”
That’s why Larson is calling for federal legislators to “slow down” and craft the bill in a manner that can prevent piracy without allowing for theft on intellectual property.
Congressman appeared to do just that on Wednesday by backing off the bill, although only slightly.
“The United States loses $58 billion in economic activity each year as a result of online piracy,” Larson said. “The program is hurting 19 million throughout the country, but opponents have raised valid concerns and I believe many of these concerns will be addressed as legislation goes through the process.”
Other state legislators, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Joe Courtney have publicly spoken against the acts and said they could not support bills restricting free information.
Larson said at this stage, he expects the bill to be reviewed and rewritten before it is presented for a vote. A vote on the bill had initially been scheduled for Wednesday.
In the meantime, however, online giants told multiple media outlets that they intended to continue their protests in order to prevent unjust censorship.
“Imagine a world without free knowledge,” were the words that visitors found on Wikipedia Wednesday. Larson said he hopes this will never happen.