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As some of you may notice, some big sites around the Internet (such as Wikipedia, google, Mozilla, Wired, icanhascheezburger, and reddit) have gone dark today in protest of the SOPA / PIPA legislation currently working it's way through Congress.

In short, in an attempt to provide stronger copyright enforcement tools, the bills have the potential to significantly harm any sites built on user-generated content (e.g. link sharing, wikis, message boards, etc...) by putting responsibility for the copyright-compliance of user-generated content on the site owners.

No one knows exactly what future enforcement of such a law would look like, but you could imagine the RIAA seeking to shutdown a site for a user posting a link to an unauthorized video stream, or a link to instructions on how to rip a DVD.

Note that existing laws and enforcement mechanisms do already prohibit sites like message boards, wikis, and link sharing from hosting copyrighted content. Under the current DMCA Safe Harbor law, copyright owners must notify the offending site and ask them to remove the content, and only if the site does not comply can the copyright holder seek additional action such as a forced shutdown.

If you're interested in more details, you can get better legally-informed opinions by following the links to any of the sites above and reading why they're choosing to go dark for the day.

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