With America’s largest Internet providers only weeks from their next attempt at curbing copyright crimes by way of a coast-to-coast anti-piracy campaign, opponents of online censorship are taking their own message to the streets — literally.
At least 120 supporters have pledged a total of $15,111 by Thursday afternoon, more than enough to fund a billboard that will be erected above an avenue in the State of Texas district that is represented by Lamar Smith, the same lawmaker who introduced the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
Although Representative Smith’s SOPA was killed in Congress, advocates for an open Internet still have concerns over how a partnership between Washington and Hollywood could crush the World Wide Web through other attempts at censorship. Even with SOPA and the Protect IP Act put aside, copyright violations and hacktivism continue to be topic widely debated on Capitol Hill and now the nation’s top ISPs plan to roll-out policies this summer that could cause alleged copyright criminals to have their own Internet privileges wiped away. In order to combat this and other potential ploys that would add government-sanctioned eyes over the Web, activists have successfully raised more than $15,000 to fund a billboard in Rep. Smith’s district, which includes the cities of Austin and San Antonio, Texas.
Co-opting a slogan synonymous with the Lone Star State, “Don’t mess with Texas,” the men behind the message have remixed the rally cry to read something more appropriate — the billboard, the design of which has yet to be settled on, will decry “Don’t mess with the Internet.”
If you’ve followed the fight against online censorship closely over the last few months, you shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that the billboard campaign was created by Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the popular website Reddit which was instrumental in orchestrating a protest movement earlier this year against SOPA and PIPA. Mashable.com reports that Ohanian came up with the idea just this week while brainstorming with others at a get-together at the South by Southwest conference in Austin.
“(The party) was a chance for all of us who have been talking about protecting the Internet to get together in a more relaxed setting,” Ohanian says. “There’s still plenty of work to be done. Now we can work together to protect our online rights, because nearly all of us in America value our freedom online and, well — we don’t want it messed with.”
Utilizing Crowdtilt, a website that allows an audience to donate funds towards practically any type of project, Ohanian and his associates managed to raise more than enough money to make the billboard scheme a reality in only a matter of days. He adds that even weeks after a massive Internet blackout endorsed by Reddit and Wikipedia earlier this year, he’s “really pleased” by the concern that is still rampant among Internet users skeptical of the government’s next move.
Before tossing in the towel with SOPA, Rep. Smith said, “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.” After a massive campaign made enough waves to force Washington to reconsider, Ohanian adds that more and more congressman are already siding with the online community advocating against increased censorship.
“There are now many more representatives and senators whose ear we have. The tech community is being asked what we’d like. . .we’re working on an online bill of rights — we’d like to codify the rights we enjoy offline to rights we can enjoy online,” says Ohanian.
Ohanian adds that he will be using suggestions and contributions from the Reddit community to help decide on a final design for the billboard, which was brainstormed with the help of the website’s co-founder, Erik Martin, and Holmes Wilson, co-founder of FightForTheFuture.org.