What is SOPA?SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act is a bid by the U.S. law enforcement authorities and copyright holders to prevent online piracy or infringement of copyrighted content, which could effectively curb Internet freedom to a large extent. Despite outcry from Web giants including Google and Wikipedia, the U.S. Congress is likely to pass the controversial legislation. And, when that happens, thousands of high-traffic Web sites, especially those which are hosting content that potentially infringe copyright, will be adversely affected. Last Saturday, the Obama administration dealt a crushing blow to the push to pass SOPA, when it released a critique of the bill, stating that the bill must be changed drastically in order to respect Web freedom, though the critique also acknowledged that some sort of anti-piracy legislation was needed. The Senate is expected to conduct a procedural vote on the legislation on Jan. 24.
 SOPA Protesters: Who and Why?The protest against SOPA has gained steam and the charge is being led by none other than Wikipedia and Google. They are concerned about the unintended consequences of SOPA and the possibility that the legislation will be abused. "It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web," Wikipedia said in a statement. "We support everyone’s right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects," the Web site, which draws around 75 million unique visitors every month, said. Wikipedia has alleged that SOPA is commercially motivated and has corporations and lawmakers, who are against a free Internet world, as its supporters. Joining Wikipedia and Google in their fight are Reddit, Wordpress, Craigslist, Boing Boing, Mozilla, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkdIn, Tumblr, Scribd and Zynga. Also joining the blackout will be all Cheezeburger sites, Explosm, Red 5 Studios, CryptoCat, FreakOutNation, Major League Gaming, RageMaker, Minecraft, Mojang, SkyTemple and more. Even hactivist Anonymous have joined in the anti-SOPA protest and have gone dark. "We've seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voices from the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit," reads the official statement from Reddit. These Web giants are all protesting against SOPA because the bill, if passed, will affect their user traffic. Worse still, blogs or sites suspected of hosting content that infringe copyright could be blacklisted and blocked by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) if the latter is served a notice on the same. More importantly, SOPA could create a system that would permit copyright holders alleging infringement to seek a U.S. magistrate's permission to "get an order to shut down a whole business" without a court hearing. According to Mashable, SOPA would render any Web site containing links, regardless of whether they are user-submitted, practically inoperable or liable to government take-down. To give some perspective: if SOPA had been introduced in 1991, not 2011, Youtube would not exist today, at least in nothing remotely like the form it has taken.
 How the Web Giants will be protesting against SOPA on Jan. 18?Several Web giants have decided to protest against SOPA by suspending their service temporarily ("blackout") on Jan. 18. Wikipedia will be temporarily shutting down its English version site for 24 hours. The blackout starts at 12 a.m. ET on Wednesday. So will Reddit (for 12 hours). Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is all charged up about the blackout. "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed, MLK on Wednesday, Wikipedia demands," Wales tweeted on Monday, which was a holiday on account of Martin Luther King Day. "Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation," said Wales in the official statement. "This is an extraordinary action for our community to take - and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world." "This is going to be wow," Wales also tweeted. "I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!" "We've seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voices from the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit," reads the official statement from Reddit. Instead of publishing its typical content on Wednesday, Reddit will circulate anti-PIPA/SOPA information on how the legislation will hinder sites like Reddit, provide links to resources to learn more and suggest how citizens can take action. "If you want an Internet where human rights, free speech and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry's profits, I hope you'll join us," said Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing. Internet search engine giant Google will also be protesting against SOPA. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said SOPA would "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself. ... By criminalizing links, what these bills do is they force you to take content off the Internet. ... If Congress writes a bad law, we all suffer." However, not everybody are participating in the blackout. Instead of staging a blackout, Google is merely lending its support to the blackout by highlighting "this issue on our U.S. home page" i.e., Google will post a link on Google.com to explain why it opposes the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act (PIPA), its Senate version. Twitter is against SOPA but has called Wikipedia's action "foolish" and "silly." "That's just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish," Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted on Monday. Joining the blackout will be all Cheezeburger sites, Explosm, Red 5 Studios, CryptoCat, FreakOutNation, Major League Gaming, RageMaker, Minecraft, Mojang, SkyTemple and more. According to PublicKnowledge.org Communications Director Art Brodsky, between 7,000 and 10,000 sites have committed to a blackout in Wednesday in a sign of solidarity against the legislation. However, the majority of them will be 'little companies" and "start-ups."
 SOPA Supporters: Who and Why?SOPA proponents include USCC (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and content creators such as MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCP) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Large corporations such as Sony, Comcast/NBC Universal, ABC, BMI, CBS, EMI Music Publishing, ESPN, Marvel Entertainment, MCA Records, Viacom, Warner Music Group, McGraw-Hill Education, Visa and Nike, as well as eminent individuals, such as media baron Rupert Murdoch (he has called Google the "piracy leader", are supporting the bill. They are supporting the bill because it aims to allow copyright holder to block access of domestic and foreign Web sites, which allegedly spread contents in violation of copyright and other intellectual property laws. Giant domain name registrar GoDaddy was initially a supporter of SOPA but following intense pressure from several Web site owners, who said they were going to find somewhere else for their business, it announced that it was revoking its support.
 Is SOPA Justified?House Judiciary Committee Chairman and bill sponsor Lamar Smith (R-Texas) feels the Web giants have misunderstood SOPA and, hence he has called the Jan. 18 blackout a "publicity stunt." "The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy," Smith said in a statement, according to The Hill. Michael O'Leary of the Motion Picture Association of America also said SOPA will protect the livelihood of the people working in the music and movie industry. "Fundamentally, this is about jobs," O'Leary told Congress this fall. "More than 2.2 million hard-working, middle-class people in all 50 states depend on the entertainment industry for their jobs and many millions more work in other industries that rely on intellectual property," O'Leary said. "For all these workers and their families, online content and counterfeiting by these foreign sites mean declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits." However, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) feels SOPA will stifle free speech, restrict Internet innovation and is not the only way out. On Tuesday, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Guidance, told SOPA opponents that he will formally introduce his competing Online Enforcement and Protection of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) on Wednesday "and it will have more co-sponsors in the House than SOPA has in the House." Issa also said House majority leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told him that no vote on SOPA will transpire "unless there is consensus on the bill," shelving the legislation until further notice. This move "effectively scuppers" SOPA, the Guardian noted. PublicKnowledge.org Communications Director Art Brodsky also said he doesn't buy the theory that online piracy is destroying the music and movie industries. "I was reading a study last week that said the people who download the most stuff, buy the most stuff. They're fans. People who download are more likely to go out and buy CDs and movies," he told IBTimes.
 How to Circumvent SOPA?SOPA, if implemented, can be circumvented by accessing a Web site using its numeric IP address. To obtain the IP address of a particular (blocked) site you can open a command line window and use "nslookup" which will return the IP address. However, there's a drawback. Numeric IP address will not help you open a site, if it is hosted by servers hosting multiple domains, because the host is using name-based virtual hosting. There are also some tools that are surfacing on the Internet that reportedly allow you to access blocked sites. One such tool, as reported by Boing Boing, is Soapy. However, Soapy has a drawback too. HTTPS sites can't be accessed by Soapy. Also, Soapy can only direct you to sites which are in its limited database (the database is expected to expand soon). Another way of circumventing SOPA is using tools, such as proxy servers, to hide your own IP address. Don't forget to leave comments below if you know of other ways to circumvent SOPA.
 How to Access Wikipedia on Jan. 18?Wikipedia has gone dark on Wednesday, Jan. 18, to protest against SOPA. Its action could affect millions of students, who regularly access the popular online encyclopedia. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales had warned students about the blackout decision on Monday. "Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa," Wales had tweeted. However, don't fret. One can still access the site. Here's how - Go to www.wikipedia.com as usual and while the page is still loading, click the escape key [ESC] quickly. The Wikipedia page will then load normally.
 How to Participate in the Jan. 18 Blackout?Did you know that you too can join the anti-SOPA protest? SOPAStrike.com has listed resources to help black out your own site. The resources include plug-ins and code such as Zachary Johnson's STOP SOPA. CloudFlare, a startup dedicated towards protecting and optimizing Web sites, has also released its Stop Censorship app, which helps Web site owners to provisionally black out portions of their sites, Mashable reported. If you want to protest against SOPA, you can also tweet at @FightForTheFTR from your official Twitter account.
SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is currently under debate in the U.S. Congress, has Web giants like Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Wordpress, Boing Boing, Mozilla and others up in arms as, not only it is ridden with thorny copyright issues and backdoors, but also in many ways, it is a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a landmark legislation that has shaped the course of the Internet and the institution of online safe spaces since 1998.
On Jan. 18, Wednesday, Many Web giants including Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and others will be either blacking out their Web sites or highlighting SOPA and the dangers it poses to Internet freedom.
The anti-piracy bill, if passed, puts any Web site in risk of being shut down permanently if a notice is served to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that the Web site is hosting or linking to any content, which is in violation of copyright and other intellectual property laws.
What is SOPA? How will it impact businesses and Web giants? Who are the SOPA supporters of the bill? Who are the SOPA protesters? Is there an alternative to SOPA? What is the Jan. 18 blackout? Who are participating in the blackout? What can you do to join the anti-SOPA protest? To find out the answers to these questions and more, start the slideshow. And don't forget to leave your comments here if you want to speak out for or against the controversial bill.