Not the whole Internet, but a substantial proportion of sites, large and small, have temporarily shut their doors today, 18th January 2012, in protest against the proposed SOPA law currently before Congress in the USA.
The general feeling is that SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), and its near relation PIPA (Protect IP Act), are less about ending piracy and protecting intellectual property and far more about censoring the Internet. Whilst this is a US law, there are grave concerns about the impact that it could have worldwide on the economy and jobs, and on chilling innovation. Sites such as Wikipedia, BoingBoing, Flickr, Tucows and even Google have got involved in the one day protest - a full list can be seen on SOPA Strike.
The Internet is being used to full effect to spread the word at the outrage felt about the two laws. The concern for those in other nations is that more countries will follow the US lead if these two laws were to be passed, making it virtually impossible for many of the exciting innovations which the Internet could enable to come to fruition. For instance, there would be no Youtube, Google, Twitter, Facebook etc. For companies using the Internet to promote their brand, products, services, this would have a devastating effect, whilst protecting only a small minority of companies e.g. content creators such as Hollywood and the music industry, and failing to prevent piracy.
Social networks would struggle to exist, as would search companies who would have a burdensome responsibility for every site listed, with time-consuming and expensive legal action possible at every turn. The consequences of such an act would be dire. There is also a level of hypocrisy from any country endeavouring to introduce such laws, as are also being considered within the EU, where that country has spoken out against China's censorship of the Internet.
The US government are due to vote on the proposed Bill shortly, although there has already been one postponement due to major concerns. An alternative - the OPEN Act - has been proposed and is supported by hundreds of businesses, enterpreneurs, and so on. The OPEN Act protects privacy and IP through far more sensible moves designed not to kill the golden goose.
Meanwhile, for those interested, the best hashtags and keywords to follow today on Twitter so far would seem to be #sopastrike, End Piracy, #fightsopa. Let us know your views on SOPA and how this could affect your business in the future if it is voted through.