Anti-SOPA code goes viral, blacks out websites

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Thousands of websites went dark Wednesday in protest of two potential anti-piracy legislations using a code created by a University of Minnesota alumnus, Zachary Johnson.

The code turns user’s cursors into digital flashlights that light up an anti-SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, message and link to AmericanCensorship.org.

The Act, along with PIPA, the Protect IP Act, was proposed to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. But both received strong public backlash, as user-content websites like YouTube and Wikipedia would be affected and could potentially be shut down if the acts become law.

Multiple versions of Johnson’s code have been circulating the web since its creation and are available to anyone who wishes to join the protest. According to Johnson, around 4,500 websites used his code Wednesday.

“It just got a lot of people discussing the issue which is what I was hoping for,” he said.

The computer science grad got the idea for the code while reading about the blackout protest on the popular blog BoingBoing Saturday night. He had already created a similar code for an earlier blog post of his own and decided to reuse it for the cause.

“I thought it was kind of a creative way to get the message across,” he said.

Johnson then sent the design to BoingBoing editor Cory Doctorow who was impressed with the idea, but suggested Johnson should add more information about the act.

Johnson followed the advice, and then posted the completed code on GitHub, a website for sharing open-source coding, Sunday.

The next morning, Johnson woke up to find BoingBoing had posted an article about his template and the word spread from there.

“I got a lot of positive responses,” Johnson said.

The code quickly circulated on Twitter, and by the end of the day Sunday 40,000 people had visited his website Zachstronaut.

By Wednesday, news outlets like the Washington Post had articles about the code. A popular blog Post Secret redirected their entire sight to Johnson’s page, and websites like Greenpeace and MichaelMoore.com were using his template.

As of Thursday, about 220,000 people have been to Johnson’s website. But he doesn’t think the fight is over yet.

“I don’t understand why Congress isn’t listening to the outpouring of opposition from constituents,” he said. “The people who are pirating and who make money are going to find a way around this anyway.”