chapter  2
21 Pages

Dark Days: Understanding the Historical Context and the Visual Rhetorics of the SOPA/PIPA Blackout


The January 18, 2012, protests against two “anti-piracy” bills then before the U.S. Congress radiated throughout the Internet and-in some casesinto offl ine spaces as well. The two bills-the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” (PIPA)—were both so broadly and crudely drawn that they prompted an unusual backlash. Whereas both bills announced themselves to be addressing widespread unauthorized downloads of copyrighted materials, the proposed countermeasures were onerous. In addition to dramatic criminal penalties for infringement, SOPA proposed blocking access to entire Internet domains by law enforcement. PIPA proposed stripping allegedly infringing sites from the Domain Name System, effectively rendering them invisible to Internet users. Distaste for the bills united a broad and diverse ad hoc coalition that mobilized against the bills in a range of protest actions. The clear center of these protests was the “SOPA/PIPA Blackout” in which thousands of popular websites either obscured or delayed access to their core content in order to raise awareness about the bills’ contents and-in some cases-drive further protest activities.