As you might have noticed, many of your favorite sites have opted to black out or restrict content today. The root of this protest is new legislation that will have a transformative and dangerous effect on the free Internet as we know it. There has been so much chatter about the bills that you could be forgiven for being unsure about what is being proposed and the consequences. Before we explain the bill, it's also significant to note that this is a United States law, but with far reaching consequences that would affect anyone who communicates or interacts with Americans.
The bills have a laudable goal; which is to reduce the prevalence and problems caused by digital piracy of movies, music, video games and other content. As a music and cultural site, we are definitely supportive of anything that would enable creative people to live off their art and create more of it for all of us to enjoy. However, like the cliche says: the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. In this case, the mechanism used to enforce copyright law is the actual issue.
The bill would allow content providers - movie studios, record labels, etc. - to forcibly remove a website from the Internet with no oversight. Basically, an allegation of copyright infringement is sufficient to get your site removed from the Internet. Legislators like bill sponsor Lamar Smith have presented this bill as a way of fighting obvious infringers like The Pirate Bay, but the bill is so broadly worded that the collateral damage will be significant.
Copyright infringement is a very broad category of offenses. For example, we post music streams at Punknews.org quite often. We always do so with permission from bands and labels but thanks to the complicated way that international licensing works; we could have permission from the band's US label but without the knowledge of their UK label. The UK label could file a complaint and have our site removed from the Internet before we could even respond and we'd have no real recourse.
If you find yourself concerned about this as well, please contact your congressperson. Google has a helpful page with more information and contact info here.