If you’ve been surfing the Internet today you may have come across some websites that have been blacked out in protest of the SOPA Act going through the US Congress.   With popular sites, including Wikipedia, WordPress, Redditt, Firefox, and The Oatmeal going dark for the day, it’s important that you know exactly what the bill means for the future of the Internet.

Websites protest SOPA

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is intended to protect intellectual property copyright by shutting down websites that infringe on these laws.  Many organisations are concerned that the wording in the act makes it too easy to shut down websites that may unintentionally be breaking copyright, leading to the ability to censor the web. So, while we can all understand a website that allows illegal movie downloads being shut down, the act allows for much more than that.  Any site that illegally contains copyrighted material can be taken down, as can any website that could potentially facilitate copyright infringement—which includes YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, and even blogs.

The acts also allow the US government to censor foreign-based sites that it does not have the power to directly take down. It will also allow companies to take individuals to court over online copyright infringement, even if their intention was not to break copyright.

And while we don’t live in the US, there is a worry that the impact of this act will be felt around the world. How will it impact online dialogue or creativity? Will people be able to upload videos of themselves singing a popular song? Will famous images be able to be used on blogs? Will the Internet continue to be a place that promotes access to information, creativity, and sharing?

So, today is a day of action online, with companies blacking out to show the possible impact of the act if it goes into affect.  The campaign against this act is popular in the tech industry and even has the backing of the Obama administration. And while we wait to see what will happens, many hope that the wording will change to prevent the potential for massive Internet censorship.

For more information, read SOPA in its entirety.