Google on Tuesday announced it would make an unprecedented change to its homepage for American users on Wednesday, January 18, in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), the two pieces of anti-online piracy legislation being considered by Congress that have been criticized by Web companies and tech writers for their potential to break the Internet.
“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” a Google spokesperson told TPM in an emailed statement. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page.”
Google’s move provides the biggest backing yet to a mass online protest scheduled for Wednesday, January 18. The protest was originally started by Reddit, whose users are vocally opposed to the legislation, but has expanded to include Wikipedia, The Mozilla Foundation (makers of Firefox) and numerous other websites — though notably not Twitter or Facebook, at least not yet.
However, CNET reported that Google would not be following Reddit’s and Wikipedia’s plan to “black out” their websites throughout the day — making them unusable for U.S. users — but would rather post a link on the main Google U.S. search page in protest of the bills.
At the time of this posting, Google declined to provide details on where the link will actually appear on the homepage, let alone where it will take users or how long it will last. Google said it would provide more information on its protests against SOPA and PIPA on Wednesday.
But there’s a good bet whatever Google has in store, it will at least outline the company’s position on the legislation and urge U.S. users to contact their Congressional representatives, as previous online protests against SOPA and PIPA have done.
Google previously was the only tech company invited to testify in a hearing on SOPA in November, during which time Google policy lawyer Katherine Oyama mounted a formidable attack on SOPA and vigorously defended the company’s position against the legislation from the probing questions of lawmakers.
Even before Google’s late entry into the upcoming online protest, Wednesday was proving to be the most decisive day yet in the Internet’s battle against against SOPA and PIPA.
Aside from the mass online protests, NY Tech Meetup, a semi-formal coalition of tech companies and entrepreneurs in New York City, was also slated to physically protest New York Senators Kirtsen Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer over their co-sponsorship of PIPA, the Senate version of the legislation.
TPM has also learned that SF New Tech, the San Francisco counterpart to NY Tech Meetup, has scheduled a last-minute in-person protest at the San Francisco Civic Center.
Net Coalition, a Web industry group representing Google, Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and other leading companies, announced on Tuesday it would begin running radio, print and potentially TV ads against SOPA and PIPA in Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Oklahoma.
”We want to let people know that these bills will harm American jobs and our economy by stifling innovation and chilling investment in one of the few industries growing and hiring,” said Markham Erickson, Executive Director of NetCoalition, in a statement.
The action comes in advance of an impending Senate vote on PIPA (the Senate version of the anti-piracy legislation), scheduled for January 24.
Both SOPA and PIPA would give the U.S. Attorney General the power to order webpages with foreign domains to be shut down if accused of piracy by copyright holders, namely Hollywood and the American recording industry. American credit card companies, online payment companies and advertisers would also be forced to stop dealing with those websites accused of piracy.
Both bills also originally mandated that Internet Service Providers — such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon — alter their Doman Name Service (DNS) settings to block foreign websites accused of piracy.
But the sponsors of SOPA and PIPA made an incredible about-face late last week, agreeing to remove or at least delay the DNS-blocking part of the bills due to unanswered cybersecurity questions. SOPA was also reportedly postponed indefinitely in the House and the Obama Administration came out against key parts of the bills on Saturday.
Meanwhile, six Republican Senators sent a letter Friday to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asking him to postpone the January 24 vote on PIPA until a consensus could be reached on the bill.
Right now, PIPA has 48 supporters and 5 opponents in the Senate, according to ProPublica.
Chart by Clayton Ashley