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What? No Wikipedia? Yup! And here's why

NEED TO KNOW
  • Wikipedia, other sites going dark Wednesday in protest of anti-piracy bill
  • Writer: It's 'Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley' in a major, modern battle
  • Breaking down who likes/hates it and how it impacts you
What? No Wikipedia? Yup! And here's why

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That consumer-friendly tweet went out on Monday from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who is shutting down his site Wednesday in protest of the sweeping Internet anti-piracy bill known as SOPA.

And if taking away our Wikipedia wasn't alarming enough, the Cheezburger sites (LOL Cats, FAIL Blog, etc.) will also go dark in protest.

No pictures of mischievous cats alongside 48-point font captions?? Yo. SOPA just got real. And Internet favorites like Reddit and Boing Boing will also shut down Wednesday.

So why all the online outrage? Because this Stop Online Piracy Act, depending on who you believe, will either a) be the death of the Internet or b) prevent the death of the entertainment industry. As CNNMoney puts it, it's an "all-out war between Hollywood and Silicon Valley." And we're all stuck standing in the middle.

So here are five things you need to know about SOPA while you're raging about Wikipedia being shut down and your inability to learn more about Dutch soccer player Siri Worm or the Philippe Cousteau Anchor Museum.

#1. What is it?

SOPA is legislation that targets offshore Web sites distributing pirated material. Easy enough. The backlash though is in how far it goes to accomplish this task.

It allows private companies (think movie studios) to have law enforcement shut down Web sites that host the content and requires search engines and service providers to block access to the sites if a judge tells them to do so. CNet says that last part about blacklisting Web sites is "kind of an Internet death penalty."

#2. Who likes it and why?

In short, the entertainment industry. They've been throwing around huge numbers about how much money they lose ($58 billion) and how many jobs could disappear (19 million) as a result of everyone streaming "Sexy And I Know It" or downloading "Bridesmaids" without anyone getting paid for it. Transparency time: HLN parent company Time Warner is among the industry supporters of the legislation.

Also on board for the reasons stated above: the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and numerous media titans. It's gotten to the point where Rupert Murdoch is using his Twitter account to pick a fight with Google.

#3. Who doesn't like it and why?

In short, the whole Internet. Oh, and the White House. They claim the broad set of violations could cripple Web sites which aren't even aware they're hosting illegal material -- for instance if a user simply posts a copyrighted image. And as The New York Times puts it, opponents see the bill as "potentially destructive to the open Web and a step toward the kind of intrusive Internet regulation that has made China a global villain to citizens of the Web."

In its opposition, the White House declared "we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet." Web heavies including Facebook, Twitter, AOL, Etsy, LinkedIn, eBay and Yahoo! are among those who have signed a letter protesting the legislation.

#4. How does it affect me?

In short, do you own a computer? Well there you go. But we'll let HLN's personal finance anchor Jennifer Westhoven spell it out:

"Imagine if any time you shared a picture -– it could be a snapshot of you with friends at a party, or some gorgeous dinner you were just served, or a video of your baby crawling for the first time -- each post had to be checked by sites like Facebook, YouTube, etc." for possible copyright violations. That’s why the Internet companies are arguing this could shut down sharing on the Web. Not just the sharing of copyrighted materials.”

#5. So where do things stand now?

Well there's no Wikipedia on Wednesday, so you can use your free time to go to New York to join a planned protest there. Back in Washington, there's a planned hearing on SOPA on Friday with more possibly on the way before it could advance to a vote.

In the meantime, have you met SOPA's equally reviled but slightly less sinister cousin, PIPA? That's the next big web battle. And you can go to Wikipedia to learn more about it, but you better hurry up. Clock's ticking.

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