Wikipedia Joins Reddit; Will Go Dark on Wednesday To Protest SOPA

The Internet's opposition to the Congressional bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) has reached a fever pitch, even as the bill's primary backers have first retreated from its most damning provisions, then fled altogether. Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, announced today that the site would go dark to protest the bill.

"Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!," Wales tweeted. It's not clear if Wikipedia will simply go down or if it plans to join sites like Reddit in replacing normal content with links and information on why SOPA threatens the underlying structure of the Internet and must be stopped. Mozilla has weighed in on the controversy, stating that it plans for its sites to "go dark" for a while, replaced by content talking about how dangerous SOPA would be."

The news is a further setback for Congressman Lamar Hill, who sponsored the House's original bill and who promised, in the face of fierce opposition, to remove the section of the bill that mandates DNS blocking. This provision is generally viewed as a major reason why the bill was technologically infeasible--enacting SOPA as written would have broken DNSSEC, the technical standard developed (and recently rolled out by Comcast) in an effort to secure DNS servers and reduce the incidence of cache poisoning and redirect attacks.

Most recently, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa has stated that he has it on good authority from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that SOPA will not come to the floor for a vote in its present form. "While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House," Issa said in a statement.  "Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote."

Far from signaling the all-clear, however, Issa himself recommended that the focus move from SOPA to PIPA (aka Protect-IP), a similar bill slated for debate in the Senate. "Right now, the focus of protecting the Internet needs to be on the Senate where Majority Leader Reid has announced his intention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks," he said.

Even with the DNS provisions removed, SOPA and PIPA put an unprecedented amount of power in private hands and allow rightsholders to order that a search engine strip all results that point to a site, and suspend payments to its owner without the need for a court order. Websites could be found guilty simply for linking to offending sites, and SOPA/PIPA generally abolish the 'safe harbor' provision that protects a site from copyright infringement by its users.

The Internet is going to be a tiny bit harder to navigate on Wednesday, but if it helps send a message, we're in favor of it.