THE controversy over proposed copyright acts in the United States has boiled over with a mass online attack that crippled US government and music publishers' websites yesterday.
The hacking group Anonymous has stepped up opposition to the bills, taking down websites belonging to the FBI, the US Department of Justice, Universal Music, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America in a distributed denial-of-service attack yesterday.
It also posted what it said were personal details of the family of the Motion Picture Association's chief executive.
Universal Music and the two associations back the bill, as do Sony, Time Warner, VISA, magazine and book publishers such as Random House and Harper Collins, and the consumer goods manufacturers L'Oreal and Estee Lauder.
Proponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its cousin, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), say the laws are necessary to stop intellectual property theft and curb copyright infringement, especially online. They also cover counterfeit goods.
But critics say the bills infringe freedom of speech and undermine the fabric of the internet by threatening to shut down websites that publish user content over which they have no control.
The bills include provisions that stop websites linking to offending sites and require internet service providers to block them.
The father of the worldwide web, the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, this week called for Americans to take action against the bills. Speaking at an IBM event in Los Angeles, Mr Berners-Lee said the proposals violated human rights.
''If you're in America then you should go and call somebody or send an email to protest against these … bills because they have not been put together to respect human rights as is appropriate in a democratic country," he said.
Anonymous said its attacks were in retaliation for the shutdown of the popular file-sharing website Megaupload.com by the FBI on Thursday. Four people were arrested in New Zealand yesterday in connection with the crackdown. Three others are at large.
Later Anonymous stepped up the attack by posting what it said were personal details of the Motion Picture Association's chief executive, the former US senator Chris Dodd. It included children's names and ages, and the addresses and value of property.
"We Anonymous are launching our largest attack ever on government and music industry sites. Lulz. The FBI didn't think they would get away with this did they? They should have expected us," the file said.
In its original form, SOPA would allow copyright owners and law enforcement agencies to have offending websites removed from the internet domain address system, effectively censoring them. Offenders face up to five years in jail.
The bills are backed by the music and movie studios, and corporate entertainment business leaders, including Rupert Murdoch, leading critics to accuse US legislators of bowing to private commercial imperatives. It has faced strong opposition, including from the White House, which issued a statement on January 14 stressing that the "important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative internet".
The statement, written by three White House chiefs, including Barack Obama's cyber security tsar Howard Schmidt, prompted the architect of the SOPA, congressman Lamar Smith of Texas, to schedule it for review in February.
Internet giants such as Wikipedia, Google and Mozilla have voiced their opposition, with Wikipedia staging a 24-hour blackout on Wednesday.
SOPA was first introduced to the US House of Representatives in October.