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updated: 1/19/2012 6:24 AM

Suburban bloggers watch, worry about piracy legislation

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Suburban bloggers are keeping a close eye on the evolving legislation aimed at cracking down on online piracy, fearing it could shut down their websites or threaten their businesses.

The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills created a virtual uproar Wednesday, with protests that included popular websites like Google and Wikipedia doing "blackouts."

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Many local bloggers joined the rally cry, sounding off on social media sites and offering support on anti-SOPA/PIPA websites.

Maria Tiongco Ramos, of Aurora, who runs ASavingsWow.com, blacked out her website in protest Wednesday, replacing her page of money-saving deals with information on SOPA/PIPA.

"There does need to be some kind of legislation so the true fraud that's going on can be taken care of ... I just don't know if this is the way to do it," she said. "The problem is, they're trying to lump so many different categories (of website) into one bill."

Attorney and Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Ed Lee agrees, but doubts the proposed legislation would affect the typical suburban blogger.

"The question is, how do you craft a piece of legislation that protects legitimate users and legitimate websites?" he said.

The idea behind SOPA/PIPA is to help protect artists, innovators and industries from copyright thieves and shield consumers from fake, faulty and unsafe products sold online. Creative America, a coalition of Hollywood studios, networks and unions, says content theft costs U.S. workers $5.5 billion a year.

The bills would allow the Justice Department and copyright holders to seek court orders against foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. While there is little the United States can do to take down those websites, the bills would bar online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as credit card companies and PayPal from doing business with an alleged violator. It also would forbid search engines from linking to such sites.

The complicated legislation has many suburban bloggers wondering such a law would affect their businesses. While most bloggers don't make much money, their websites provide extra income and create virtual communities.

"A site like mine couldn't exist with a law like this," said Dave Della Terza, the suburban man who runs VoteForTheWorst.com, a popular "American Idol" mocking site.

With hundreds and sometimes thousands of people posting on his website, Della Terza wonders if the legislation would hold him responsible for pirated images or videos people post.

"(The legislation) is so vaguely worded, we all are worried what kind of an impact it's going to have on us," added Rita Cangialosi, of Mundelein, who runs ChiTownCheapskate.com, which shares deals with its 3,000 visitors each day.

Websites like hers and Tiongco Ramos' use product images and company logos to promote deals.

"We're trying to drive traffic to stores, and encouraging them to shop at certain places or products. We're not trying to use photos or logos in a malicious way," Tiongco Ramos said. "If we take a picture of the product we're purchasing, is that infringing at all? There's no clear cut way to monitor what's OK and what's not."

Former state Rep. Cal Skinner, who writes McHenryCountyBlog.com, opposes government regulation of the Internet, saying "you don't want to end up like China."

However, he believes bloggers need to respect copyright laws. He says he always provides a link to a media report, rather than reprinting an entire story or posting a newspaper's photo on his blog.

"(When I see bloggers do that), I'm just appalled," he said. "What part of copyright infringement don't they understand?"

• Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.

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