By Trevor Kapp
MIDTOWN — Hundreds of tech-savvy New Yorkers gathered outside the offices of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand Wednesday afternoon to protest two controversial proposed online piracy laws, which they called "an unprecedented attack on the future" of the open web.
The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act), which were drafted by the House and Senate, respectively, have sparked a firestorm of controversy since they were introduced last year.
The bills, pushed by the entertainment industry, would crack down on websites that offer pirated material such as movies and music. They also could allow the government to bar advertisers from those sites, require Internet service providers to block the sites or order search engines to stop listed the sites, according to the Washington Post.
"We believe that these bills are overreaching," said Andrew Rasiej, the founder and publisher of PersonalDemocracy.com, a website designed to promote dialogue between politicians and the technology world.
"These bills will alter the basic structure of the internet and send a message to rogue totalitarian regimes around the world that it's okay to censor the internet without due process."
The proposed legislation has received widespread support from many in the film industry as well as from the Chamber of Commerce.
But protesters on Third Avenue and 51st Street — carrying signs that read "No SOPA for you," "Save the Internet" and "It's no longer OK to NOT know how the Internet works" — said that while they oppose piracy, these acts are an abridgment of First Amendment rights because of its restriction on information.
"It's free speech," said Ivona Huszcza, 38, of Kew Gardens, Queens. "We make fun of China for censoring free speech, but it's hypocritical."
Huszcza, who held up a sign reading: "First, the newspapers started disappearing. Now, they're going after the internet. Next, will they arrest me for making this sign," said she was particularly displeased with Schumer and Gillibrand's support of the acts.
"If we were a true democracy, they'd come downstairs," she said. "But they don't acknowledge this."
Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit.com, said SOPA and PIPA could further the destruction of the economy.
"We are here because we are fighting against the wholesale destruction of one of the healthiest parts of America's economy," he said. "When there are more simple things like unemployment, like the deficit that Congress cannot agree on, why is it when a lobbyist comes into town with $94 million, Democrats and Republicans say, 'I'll co-sponsor that.'"
On Wednesday morning, Wikipedia shut down its site in protest of the acts.
Ohanian said politicians are caving to lobbyists' requests simply because they have money.
"This has become an issue that is a lot bigger than just saving the Internet now," he said. "This is a fight to show our elected officials are beholden to the electorate, not to lobbyists."