Reddit to stage blackout to protest SOPA

January 12, 2012 8:50:41 PM PST
The popular website Reddit will stage a blackout next week to protest a bill some say strikes at the core of free speech.

"If this law were passed, the Internet would look like it looks like in Myanmar or Iran or Belarus, it would be censored," Reddit General Manager Erik Martin said.

The online community is taking a stand against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). On Jan. 18, as Congress holds hearings about the bill, designed to protect copyrighted material, Reddit will go dark for 12 hours.

"A day of action where people could really, you know, spend that 12 hours that they normally would spend browsing and surfing the site taking action, calling their congressmen, emailing friends," Martin said.

Martin says SOPA could ultimately force Reddit to shut down and radically change sites like YouTube and even Google. There are fears it would allow courts to take down a website that links to pirated material hosted in a foreign country. Reddit's content is posted by users, some 80,000 online at a time, and Martin says it's impossible to police.

"Reddit would eventually be impossible to run," Martin said.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement, "It appears no one at Reddit has read the bill. The Stop Online Piracy Act targets only foreign websites that are primarily dedicated to illegal and infringing activity. It does not grant the Justice Department the authority to seek a court order to shut down any website operated in the U.S."

But lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation disagree.

"The bill is very, very badly worded; there's all kinds of definitions that are very broad that will clearly encompass U.S. companies and U.S. sites, not just foreign sites," Corynne McSherry said.

It's designed to protect music artists, but MC Hammer is among those who've come out against SOPA on Twitter.

Twitter said in a statement, "These measures pose a serious risk to...innovation and job creation, as well as our nation's cyber-security." The company said they had no input in crafting the legislation.

"It was negotiated entirely behind closed doors. Tech companies were not allowed at the table," McSherry said.

The bill's biggest backers are the motion picture and recording industries. Both associations declined ABC7's requests for interviews.