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7/18/2012
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Internet Defenders Launch 'Cat Signal' To Protect Freedom

Modeled after Batman's bat signal, the Internet Defense League's cat signal will soon light the sky and later light up screens in the name of Internet openness.

In Batman lore, the bat signal is a bat-shaped shadow cast by a searchlight on clouds or buildings to call the caped crusader to action. In conjunction with the midnight screenings marking the Friday opening of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, the guardians of Internet openness plan to launch the Internet Defense League (IDL) Thursday to organize and rally Internet users against present and future threats to the global computer network.

Where Batman has his bat signal, the IDL has a cat signal, a googly-eyed, slack-jawed rendition of the animal that embodies Internet culture. And the newly formed group, which includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mozilla, Public Knowledge, Reddit, and WordPress, plans to use it: The IDL is soliciting donations for five crowd-funded spotlights in as many cities that will splash the "cat signal" on buildings where moviegoers queue to attend The Dark Knight Rises. At the time this article was filed, four spotlights have been funded, with $19,000 left to be raised to secure a fifth city.

The EFF describes the IDL as a way to sustain the alliance of organizations, companies, and individuals that came together to fight the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a controversial bill that media companies defended as a necessary copyright enforcement measure, and technology companies condemned as a violation of free speech rights and a threat to their business models. On January 18, over 75,000 websites and organizations, including Google, Mozilla, Reddit, and Wikipedia, protested against SOPA and a related bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), by going dark or posting a protest page. A few days later, politicians who had previously supported the bills backtracked and the bills were effectively killed.

But as in many Hollywood productions, dead villains often rise again, or take new forms, like the narrowly defeated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) treaty. Thus, the organizations backing the IDL want to prepare for the next Internet threat with a one-click army, to be called into action with the cat signal.

[ Read YouTube Adds Face Blurring For Privacy. ]

The cat signal may end up shining like the midnight sun. There appears to be no shortage of new bills and treaties that aspire to restrict Internet freedoms in the name of copyright enforcement. And countries hostile to free speech, like China and Russia, continue to suggest that we'd all be better off if the Internet were managed by some U.N.-backed group like the International Telecommunication Union.

To ensure that the cat signal is seen, the IDL will be making its warning beacon available to website operators as JavaScript code. Once installed on a website, the cat signal will appear to site visitors when the IDL launches an awareness campaign, either as a modal popup window or as a notification banner, unless set to be triggered manually.

Who needs Batman when Internet technology is available?

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