February 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Small e-retailers join Amazon in fighting anti-piracy bills

Facing stiff opposition from Internet companies and millions of petitions, federal legislators put on hold indefinitely bills designed to protect copyrighted material on web sites.

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On January 18, online custom t-shirt retailer Threadless was virtually, though briefly, siteless.

Visitors saw nothing for five seconds but a black-out image in the middle of the Threadless.com home page that, when clicked, took them to a page set up by search engine Google Inc. There, visitors could learn about bills before Congress designed to stop online theft of copyrighted material—and why consumers should sign an online petition on the page to oppose that legislation.

Threadless.com wasn't alone in taking action to oppose the anti-piracy bills. Other participating online retailers and companies joining the fight included Amazon.com Inc., apparel retailer Karmalooop.com, electronics retailer Sparkfun Electronics, eBay Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

"The legislation strikes at the openness and freedom of the Internet, but moreover, it strikes at businesses, like us, that live and die by the uncensored web we call home," Sparkfun says.

The organized opposition apparently worked. Millions of web users signed petitions last month to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protect IP Act, the Senate's counterpart. The bills were intended to curb the sale of online pirated copyright-protected material, such as movies and software.

But critics contend the bills, as written, would give authorities wide-reaching ability to shut down web sites based on questionable complaints by copyright holders—for example, if a move studio claimed that a video posted to a retail site by a consumer contained copyrighted material.

Backers of the bills responded to the opposition last month, saying they would put the proposals on hold indefinitely. Revised, slightly less aggressive legislation could be forthcoming. Stay tuned.

allison@verticalwebmedia.com

@AEnrightIR

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