By Jon Swartz and Scott Martin, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO More than a dozen websites have gone dark Wednesday to protest a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills they claim will gut the Internet and stifle free speech.
Wikipedia, Moveon.org, Craigslist, user-submitted news site Reddit, the blog Boing Boing, Firefox browser creator Mozilla and the Cheezburger network of comedy sites planned to participate in a blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills.
The measures are widely backed by the film and music industries and are aimed at halting sales of pirated products abroad.
The all-day protest is expected to block or detour tens of millions of people.
Google, Facebook and Twitter, all of whom oppose SOPA, are not participating in the blackout but have expressed their displeasure. In a letter to U.S. senators and House members, they said they "cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign 'rogue' websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting."
By midnight Eastern time Wednesday, the Google logo was blacked out on its home page. Clicking on it takes you to an information page about the protest.
The Huffington Post, photo sharing site Flickr and blogging platform WordPress also joined the protest.
On Tuesday, NetCoalition, a trade group of Internet and technology companies including Google, Yahoo, Amazon.com and eBay, launched a radio advertising campaign highlighting the potential damage of SOPA and PIPA.
The drastic measures underscore the dire repercussions of SOPA. "We want to give people a visceral example of what would happen when content is blocked," says Rob Beschizza, managing editor of Boing Boing, which will be shuttered today. He says visitors to Boing Boing will get a error message on their screen, explaining the protest.
Wikipedia CEO Jimmy Wales was more blunt in a tweet: "I hope Wikipedia [users] will melt phone systems" of politicians who are in favor of SOPA.
"A black screen is alarming," says Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger, one of scores of sites that plan digital roadblocks that redirect consumers to another screen. (Users can opt out of the roadblock, and visit the site.)
For many sites, this is a preferable option because they cannot afford to shut down and upset users.
"It's Hollywood against the tech world, in effect," says James Barraford, who writes about social media for MediaTapper.com.
Both congressional bills have widespread support from content owners, including Hollywood and music studios, concerned that online piracy damages their businesses. Technology giants say the bills amount to censorship.
Obama administration officials on Saturday came out against Domain Name System provisions in the bill that would have required Internet search giants and Internet providers to block foreign websites accused of piracy.
In apparent response to the rising backlash, congressional backers of the bills have pulled out the DNS requirements. The moves are seen as a way to appease tech companies.