Blackout! The Internet Goes on Strike Protesting SOPA and PIPA

by JoHarrington

Wikipedia, Reddit, Minecraft, Wordpress, Avast and Cheezburger will be blacked out on January 18th 2012. I will also be joining the protest.

It is the biggest online protest ever to have occurred. Some of the biggest websites in the world are going offline; and many millions of smaller ones are joining them.

Their owners are joined in one mind here. The progress of cyberspace cannot be dictated by restrictive laws, designed to kill the freedom of the internet.

The darkened sites will raise public awareness of what this future may look like. Too many of our favorite places taken offline forever.

One of many protest censorship banners.
One of many protest censorship banners.

What is Happening on January 18th 2012?

All over the internet, some of the biggest sites will either go off-line or its content will be blacked out.

American Censorship Day is a huge global protest over two Acts being debated in the USA. Wikipedia, Reddit and thousands of other websites will be unavailable on January 18th 2012. Users visiting them will instead be confronted with a notice suggesting that they contact their representative or, if they are not American, the US consul in their country.

Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (aka Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011) (PIPA) are being widely viewed as an attack against freedom of speech on the internet. Others have framed it as an attempt at censorship, on a par with legislation enacted by the governments of China, Iran and Syria. 

For those less politically minded, the major concerns surround the fact that sites like YouTube could become a thing of the past.

The blackout protests are designed to give a taste of what the internet would look like, if these Acts made it onto the Statute Books.  As the majority of popular websites are hosted in America, this makes it a global concern. This accounts for the international response.

Outrage on the internet is nothing new. Cyberspace thrives on endless debate and people raging over encountering a difference of opinion. However, this is the first time that so much co-operation has been forthcoming over a single issue. It is being billed as 'the day that the internet went on strike' and just the prospect has already solicited a response from the White House.

Wikipedia Notice in the Hours Before the Protest
Wikipedia Notice in the Hours Before the Protest

Major Websites Protesting SOPA

Amongst the big name sites planning to pull their content off-line in protest are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Reddit
  • ICanHasCheezburger
  • Minecraft
  • Major League Gaming
  • Wordpress
  • This is XBox
  • Craigslist
Major League Gaming Notice in the Hours Before the Protest
Major League Gaming Notice in the Hours Before the Protest

What are SOPA and PIPA?

Lobbyists introduced the bills in a bid to stamp out piracy and copyright violations on the internet. Its proposals were a little more wide reaching.

Movie makers and record industry lobbyists have long since despaired of the internet. They see their products changing hands, on a daily basis, without any remuneration to themselves.

Every time someone copies a film and places it on-line, a theft has taken place. No money has gone to the people who acted in it, nor to the director, the make-up artist and the person who made the tea. These movies are often available before the real thing has made it into the cinema.

The problem isn't confined to Hollywood. Every album, photograph or other medium taken from the creator and reproduced has lost money for someone somewhere. It has happened to me. I've written articles, which have been plagiarized on other sites. The scraped versions ranked more highly than my own, thus cost me revenue.

Under pressure to do something about the joint issues of piracy and copyright infringement, two US politicians came up with individual proposals. SOPA and PIPA are those bills, which are now being debated in Congress. Each paper is very similar. Their aim is to extend the legal powers of any party who feels that their work is being stolen on the internet. So far, so reasonable.

Unfortunately, the scope of the proposals would be more wide reaching. They seek to control what can and cannot be seen on the internet per se.

Even President Obama's administration has baulked at what is being asked. On January 14th 2012, the White House released a statement, which seemed to shelve SOPA indefinitely; but PIPA remains and it is due to be heard in the Senate on January 24th.

The PROTECT IP Act, also known as Senate Bill 968 or S. 968, is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to "rogue websites dedicated to infringing or ...
:For details on the Wikipedia blackout that is planned for January 18, 2012, please see . {{Infobox U.S. legislation | name = Stop Online Piracy Act | fullname = "To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and ...

Cynical Brit's Take on SOPA

YouTube star Cynical Brit has over 600k subscribers. He will be joining the blackout too.

Anti-SOPA and PIPA Shirts on Amazon

Buy t-shirts with an anti-censorship on the web slogan to help spread awareness.
No SOPA AND No PIPA T-shirtStop SOPA (Red) Fine Jersey T-ShirtFight SOPA

What Difference Does it Make?

Those of us who have been around the block a few times have seen it all before.

When I was a teenager, the Sony Walkman was all the rage. We inserted our cassette tapes and listened to music as we walked the streets. One day, I was sitting on the bus listening to The Smiths. It was peaceful, restful, as I reposed in a half stupor, contemplating the world outside my window.

Suddenly a bus conductor tapped me on the shoulder and I took off my headphones. I was told to switch the Walkman off and put it into my bag. They had been banned from the entire bus company's routes, because they violated a law on public performances. I checked with other passengers. They could not hear my music, as I didn't have it turned up too loudly. It cut no ice with the man before me. I had no license to listen to The Smiths in a public place, so the Walkman had to go.

It felt like overkill. The company were using a clause in a law on licensing concerts. It was now being widely used to make copying music onto blank cassettes very inconvenient. Record labels were leaning on the owners of malls, parks, transport companies etc, threatening legal action, if they allowed 'ghetto blasters' and Walkmans under their jurisdiction.

Unfortunately for the bus company, my destination was a local newspaper. I was only sixteen, but I was due to check in for work experience as a journalist. I arrived with my first story, which ran the same day. The bus company immediately came under pressure to change their policy, which they did.

SOPA and PIPA remind me of that bus journey and its outcome. The Sony Walkman never did bring down the record industry. In fact, no-one beyond my generation has heard of them now. Mega selling albums continue to pour riches into the pockets of music moguls and artists, even when it seems that the whole world owns an iPod.

Back in the 1980s, big laws were used to target little people. The only thing that's changed is the scale. It's not one teenage girl being deprived of Morrissey and Marr, but the whole infrastructure of the internet at stake. That will affect millions of people.

Play the Smiths on YOUR MP3 Player or iPod

Buy a Smiths album, just so you can listen to it on a bus and smile at the inside joke.
SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 4 GB MP3 Player (...The SmithsApple iPod touch 8GB (4th Generation)...

How I Will Disappear from Cyberspace on American Censorship Day

For someone who pretty much lives online, this was more involved than you might expect.

The internet is my life. I work here, play here and socialize with friends here. As an on-line freelance writer, my articles span several websites. As a gaming blogger, in my leisure time, I have a huge presence on a Runescape site. As a fiction writer, I have stories dotted around three other platforms. I use social media to keep up-to-date with my friends, who are scattered around the world.

I am British, but the SOPA and PIPA legislation have the potential to impact many of my regular on-line haunts. I am not a pirate, but either of the bills could affect my livelihood. I decided early on to join in the protest.

This was harder than it looked. Here is a breakdown of how I intend to disappear from the internet on January 18th 2012 and why:


My profile here could be impacted by the use of YouTube videos and potentially other modules. The rules of the site prohibit the use of copyrighted material. If any writer attempts to do so, then their article will not be published. (I discovered this when I included a quotation. The inner algorithm queried it, as content duplicated elsewhere on the internet. Oops!)

But SOPA allows for suspicion only; or a rogue picture might be contested. In that case, the entire Wizzley website could be taken off-line and/or DNS banned in the USA. It wouldn't even have to be me who made the mistake, but another writer here.

I would rather not do without Wizzley. Without control of the coding, I cannot add a display notice. However, a quick message to the site owner provided a solution. On January 18th 2012, my account here will be made temporarily inactive. It will be as if I was never here.


My account at Suite101 would be affected for all of the same reasons as Wizzley.

When I approached a senior editor there for ideas, she commented that I will not be the only person asking this week!  Unfortunately there is no mechanism there for temporarily disabling an account. It is live or it is deleted. Instead she suggested that I remove all of my profile information and black out my image.

My own website will not pose any problems at all. I have full access to every page within it. This means that I can personally ensure that no pirated nor copyrighted content ever enters it, but again SOPA allows for suspicion. I also have a forum in there, which could potentially see someone leaving a comment which falls foul of the law.

I will insert a piece of coding similar to that being used by the likes of Wikipedia. It will render the content inaccessible for the duration of the protest. The front page will display a notice explaining why.

The House That a Girl Called Johnny Built and Jo's Library

My personal blogs often make use of videos from YouTube to support my writing or provide variety for my readers. I might occasionally give a bad review to a book, DVD or album, which might incur the wrath of its creator. Any of these would make me vulnerable to a take down under SOPA or PIPA.

They are both on the Blogger/Blogspot platform, which denies me access to the main website code. However, I do have the ability to change my templates. I spent a good half an hour trying to determine if I could code it in such a way as to ape the notices on my website.

I'd just worked out an adequate fix, when I learned someone else had already designed a whole SOPA protest template! I will be using that instead. I'm a writer and a geek, I'm not an artist. They did much better than me.

Merch Gwyar's Blog (Sal's Realm of Runescape)

My gaming blog has been regularly updated since 2007. It has well over 200k hits on it, so this will possibly be the most missed of all my on-line platforms.

I do not have access to the code behind it, as it is part of a much larger, platinum awarded Runescape fan-site. I might have accidentally broken it.

I had already messaged a site administrator with the query, but she went off-line before I received a response. I explored my own options and found one which could well take me temporarily off-line. I could make my entire blog private!  I tested it last night, but there was a bit of a problem.

This blog is massive. It has over 1000 entries and attracts a relatively large regular readership. They all leave comments. Nothing so big has ever had its settings simultaneously changed at the same time. The current theory is that it looked to the server like a DDOS attack, so I was immediately IP banned.

At this moment in time, the biggest Runescape fan-site forum is off-line, while the owner tries to see what went so badly wrong. (Edit: Sal has fixed it! Though the entire forum has changed and I'm no longer IP banned.)

I still intend to see how to use Merch Gwyar's blog to register my protest. It is currently a matter of working with the owner to see how I can do that without destroying the whole site!


As a moderator or member of various forums, I have instigated polls to see which of them will be made unavailable. The voting is on-going and the fixes are all specific to their sites. Right now, the polls are showing an over-whelming member support for action. I am confident that, by midnight, they will all be participants in the day the internet went on strike.

More Articles about SOPA and PIPA

On January 18th 2012, over 115,000 websites went dark or censored their content. It was a protest over SOPA and PIPA.
After an unprecedented wave of global protest, the two pieces of legislation at the centre of the storm were finally dropped.

Will your website be joining the protest?

Updated: 10/01/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 01/19/2012

Apologies all for not commenting yesterday. I was maintaining internet silence. Not even a Tweet!

Pancakes - I agree that some of the people debating this appear woefully cyber-illiterate, but we can't forget that it was also that generation who created the internet as we know it! Thank you for commenting.

C Rivera - I'm glad that this article was useful. Thanks for your kind comments. I'm seriously blushing here!

Ember - It took me two and a half hours to recode every one of my websites, blogs, profiles and forums. I only listed the major ones in this article, as the bulk came under 'miscellaneous'. I've now got to put them all back. LOL

I have to agree about the Oatmeal page. I watched it five times, while crying with laughter. They totally nailed the message in the best way possible.

Thank you for your participation in the strike and for using my article to explain it to your peers.

Ember on 01/18/2012

Go you! Your profiles were missed today, but for good reason. Aside from personal email and my visiting school's website, I participated by being more or less totally offline personally, because I didn't have any websites to take down. I did replace my facebook profile picture with a SOPA banner saying my picture had been removed because it violated SOPA.

For a bit in the afternoon though, I got curious and started exploring the different ways favorite websites, blogs, and comics had taken themselves offline. My personal favorite was definitely I love that guy, I wouldn't have expected anything less from their sites PIPA/SOPA protest.

And, watching the internet lose wikipedia today was quite entertaining. It clearly had an impact in some fashion (hopefully more or less positive though, but I was annoyed to hear that people could get around it by using the cached site from Google. -.- Defeats the purpose).

Anyways, you have a really good concise but simple and clear explanation of SOPA/PIPA in the intro section, so I've been sharing this with friends asking about the bills, or what the blackout today has been about, instead of trying to explain it myself. Thank you for that ^^

C. Rivera on 01/18/2012

This was beautifully written. There's so much confusion with what SOPA and PIPA are, so Having well written articles about how this could effect us on the internet is so important.

Pancakes on 01/18/2012

Ugh... this is what happens when 50-year-old man meets internet.

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