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Why Some of the Internet's Most Popular Websites Will Be Going Dark on January 18

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On January 18, some of biggest websites on the internet will be going dark to send a message to its users: This is a test. This is only a test.

The real emergency, these websites say, would be if the Stop Online Piracy Act (known as SOPA) gets signed into law. Major entertainment companies are backing the bill as a way to crack down internet piracy, and they have supporters on both sides of the aisle. Opponents say SOPA will destroy the internet we've come to know and love.

On January 18 the House Oversight Committee will be holding a hearing on the bill, and on that day you might notice that some of your favorite sites will be going dark in protest: this is a taste of what the internet would be like after SOPA.

Reddit announced it was going to black this week:

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"Instead of the normal glorious, user-curated chaos of reddit, 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 meetups to visit Congressional offices, campaigns to contact companies supporting PIPA/SOPA, and other tactics."

Other websites quickly followed suit and announced they were going dark, too. Here's a round-up of the blackout participants:

Anonymous is opposed to the bill, and its @twitter feed will go black for the day. Wikipedia has been debating joining the movement, as well. Local media blogger Kevin Roderick said that blogs like his would be thin on content if SOPA opponents' worst fears came true. Supporters of the blackout hope that web behemoths like Facebook and Google will jump on the bandwagon, too.

The New York Times' David Carr writes in a column that although he worries about piracy, SOPA is a "bad idea" that will do considerable collateral damage without doing a great job of cracking down on piracy.