Today, websites, companies, and individuals around the country are participating in the largest online protest in history as they battle two proposed bills currently pending before Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act or PIPA).

Google, for example, has a black censorship box splashed over their logo today (pictured to the left), and Wikipedia has gone dark while providing information about how to contact you local representatives (if you just can’t live without Wikipedia today, the site is still available on mobile devices and smart phones, or by disabling JavaScript in your browser).  A full list of the many popular websites protesting SOPA and PIPA today is here.

We’ve written before about SOPA and PIPA, and about how they’ve come under fire by mainstream media and civil liberties groups who believe the bills would shift too much responsibility onto ISPs, advertisers, and payment processors while also giving the U.S. government and trademark and copyright holders too much power to block allegedly infringing websites without sufficient due process.

Despite the powerful opposition to the bills, both are still alive as of today, January 18, 2012.  Indeed, the Senate is set to vote on PIPA next week, and the House will resume their work on SOPA next month.  See here for more information about the bills, the background, and the next steps.

The bills have strong supporters as well.  Chris Dodd, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), is one of these strong supporters and has stated that today’s online protest is “yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”  See here for Dodd’s full statement.

Whether today’s online protest serves to raise awareness and alter the language or course of these bills, or merely serves as a “gimmick” remains to be seen, although it is clear that thousands or perhaps millions of people who have never heard of either SOPA or PIPA will discover at least some of the many issues surrounding the bills as they go about their day today.