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Anti-SOPA movement gathering support from tech community

Wikipedia, NVIDIA, Anonymous and Reddit reject bill along with developers

The movement opposing SOPA, the US bill designed to counter online piracy of copyrighted material, has garnered further support from the tech and gaming industries, alongside campaigns from Anonymous and Reddit.

NVIDIA has publicly rejected the bill, claiming that whilst it supports the anti-piracy movement, it does not believe that SOPA is an appropriate solution. NVIDIA's declaration also implies some criticism of the Entertainment Software Association, which issued public support for the bill, for not consulting its members first.

Torchlight developer Runic has also added its voice, as did League of Legends studio Riot games, yesterday.

In support of the campaign, link site and social network Reddit has organised a 'blackout' on January 18, during which it will suspend the normal operation of its website, which sees 2 billion page views and 35 million users a month - replacing all pages with a message explaining the implications of SOPA.

One of those implications, the founders of the site believe, would be to close down sites such as Reddit.

"Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of Reddit," reads a message on the site, "we will be displaying a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like Reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.

"We will showcase the live video stream of the House hearing where Internet entrepreneurs and technical experts (including Reddit co-founder Alexis 'kn0thing' Ohanian) will be testifying. We will also spotlight community initiatives like meet-ups to visit Congressional offices, campaigns to contact companies supporting PIPA/SOPA, and other tactics."

Anarchic hacking activist collective Anonymous has added its support to the 12 hour blackout, issuing a call to action for its members and sympathisers worldwide.

In response to the blackout, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been considering whether to show solidarity by following suit with the online encyclopedia, offering considerable mainstream credence to the cause and helping to co-ordinate resistance to the bill's passing.

Also onside with the movement is Firefox developer Mozilla, which has made a public statement of support, encouraging readers and users to join the cause.

Individual developers have also pledged allegiance to the anti-SOPA movement, including Funzio's Jamil Moledina and Playmesh's Shawn Foust, who offer a more in-depth, albeit light-hearted, assessment of the concerns of the group on their industry blog, calling SOPA a "nuclear option" which goes way beyond the powers necessary for the prevention of IP infringement.

Mark Gerhard, head of Cambridge-based studio Jagex, recently acquired by a US parent, has also denounced the proposed law, pointing out that not only would it be harmful to the freedom of informational flow which sites like Wikipedia have come to represent, it would also be potentially damaging to the games industry.

"Jagex is fervently opposed to the to the proposed 'Stop Online Piracy Act', which is will essentially create a national censorship firewall for American internet users, specifically this could crush the community element of online gaming and could result in a huge lack of freedom of speech, creativity and opinion sharing," said Gerhard in a statement to press.

"The SPOA seems to have taken the page from China's internet management book. "There has been much already stated about the impact on social networking sites, but ultimately secondary to providing compelling games we also provide a social platform for our own community which would be equally affected. This legislation could have a hugely negative impact on that community, even to the extent of forum activity or in-game chat.

"Not only would this effect freedom of speech and quickly dispatch with websites such as Wikileaks, Youtube and probably Wikipedia but worse yet it would actually undermine current improvements to internet security."

Gerhard is also quick to point out the fact that the proposed legislation would not only be dangerous and oppressive, it could also prove to be ineffective in its main aims.

"This measure will prevent the rollout of DNSSEC, which will weaken security and cause no appreciable effectiveness or enforcement for the ardent users they are hoping to target with blacklisted domain names," the CEO continues.

"Namely because it could all be simply circumvented by going straight to the IP address of the blocked domain eg. instead of www.runescape.com or alternatively simply use proxy servers to access the content outside of the USA. There is every likelihood that the vast majority of internet users who are law abiding will find access to content censored and the minority of offending users will circumvent the planned measures and remain unaffected.

"If the main lobbyists behind SOPA which I understand are the US Music and Film industries truly hope to protect their intellectual property in an online world, then they need to evolve from their retail based and downloadable content models and be part of the new online ecosystem, streaming their content on demand as we have done for over 10 years to prevent piracy of our games, certainly not go about changing laws with sweeping adverse impact on innovation and freedom of speech."

The SOPA bill is due to be discussed in the US house of congress on January 16, where both industry and political figures will discuss its practicalities.

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Dan Pearson