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January 18 SOPA/PIPA blackout: A quick guide

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Starting at midnight Eastern Standard Time on Wednesday, January 18, all 3.8 million English-language articles of Wikipedia will go “black” for 24 hours, in protest of the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA). Wikipedia will be joined by thousands of other sites, all of which will be blacked out for between 12 and 24 hours. In anticipation of the confusion this will cause, we’ve put together a quick guide for those of you looking for answers, and for a way to get in on the action.

What are SOPA and PIPA, anyway?

At their most basic, SOPA and PIPA are two nearly-identical bills (SOPA in the House, PIPA in the Senate) that aim to curb the illegal distribution of copyrighted material by foreign websites, which by definition operate outside the jurisdiction of US law. These bills provide the power and the framework to restrict access to these types of sites, and to cut off sources of income.

Why are people upset about the bills?

Because they believe SOPA and PIPA are so ambiguously worded that they hold the power to usher in unprecedented censorship online, stifle online innovation, and even “break the Internet” by allowing (or requiring) Internet service providers to tamper with the domain name system (DNS), the underlying architecture of the Internet. Supporters of these bills say all of these concerns are completely unfounded.

To learn more about SOPA/PIPA and the surrounding controversy, see our quick guide here, Reddit’s thorough breakdown here, or this extremely handy flow chart here.

Which sites will be blacked out?

The full list encompasses about 7,000 sites. Some of the most well known include Wikipedia, Reddit, all 64 Cheezburger Network blogs, Boing Boing, Destructoid, Mozilla, TwitPic, Imgur, MoveOn.org, MineCraft, FreakOutNation and I Heart Chaos, among many others.

Even Google is getting in on the blackout action by including an anti-SOPA/PIPA message on the Google.com home page, and links to more information about the bills and the protest. Some activists believe that Google, which is strongly against these pieces of legislation, has not gone far enough.

UPDATE: Google has blacked out its logo on Google.com, and provided a link asking users to, “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” The logo is also blacked out on all US search results pages.

See the full list at SOPAStrike.com, here.

Which sites WON’T be blacked out?

Most of them. Notable omissions include Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo!, Zynga and eBay, all of which publicly opposed SOPA/PIPA. Both Twitter and AOL have publicly stated that they will take other actions to inform users about the potential consequences of the legislation.

Does “blackout” really mean “actually black,” or offline?

No. Most sites will replace their regular pages with a landing page devoted to spreading the anti-SOPA/PIPA message and otherwise educating people about the bills, with ways to contact Senators and Congressmen, and other information about how to get involved with the protest. Here’s a preview of what Reddit’s blackout page looks like.

I want to blackout my website, too. How do I do it?

Add the HTML code of this page to your site. Or add the JavaScript available here to your website’s theme. WordPress blogs can use this Plugin. Users of other services can snag one of these other options: 1, 2, 3.

I don’t have a website, but I still want to get involved. What can I do?

The best way is to simply spread the word. One of the good things about Twitter still being online is that it can be used to communicate with other anti-SOPA/PIPA activists. For Twitter users, here are the hashtags you need to know (without commas, for easy copy/paste): #SOPA #PIPA #WikipediaBlackout #StopSOPA #SOPASTRIKE #J18 #OpBlackout #OperationBlackout

OK, fine. But I have a paper due for school on Thursday. Help!

Sure — here’s a list of Wikipedia alternatives. Update: Also, the mobile version of Wikipedia will not be blacked out.