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Internet Defense League launches as policy watchdogs

The Internet Defense League plans to shoot a "cat signal" into the sky over New York City, San Francisco and Washington D.C. to celebrate the launch of the organization. Internet Defense League

(CBS News) A new activist group officially launched Thursday to act as online policy watchdogs against potential bills that may threaten Internet freedom.

The Internet Defense League (IDL) is a group of companies, groups and people who have joined forces to mobilize against future proposed laws, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills that were struck down following a massive Internet strike in January.

Early members of the organization include Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Dutch politician Marietje Schaake.  Web companies and organization participating in the coalition include: WordPress, Mozilla, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Reddit and OpenCongress/PPF.

"What Americans understand that the government doesn't understand is that Americans can do things well without government regulations," Rep. Darrell Issa said on a press call. Issa argues that if the government had regulated the Internet early on, it would look more like the telephone system than what it is today.

Sister bills SOPA and PIPA were intended to curb the illegal download of copyrighted materials from foreign "rogue" sites, like The Pirate Bay. Opponents of the bills pointed out that there is already legislation that provides some protection for copyrighted material, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which requires companies to remove copyrighted content "in good faith."

During debates over the policies, the EFF suggested that one of the worst-case scenarios would be that copyright owners would be able to use the law to shut down a site by cutting off access to its domain name.

While the coalition of activists has decided that they would work together, how they will decide which policies to tackle are unclear. For now, the IDL says it has advocates on stand-by to comment on proposed laws and code that websites can embed and use as an "alert code" to protest future bills.The alert code is meant to act as a "bat signal," of sorts, with what appears to be a symbol of a cat as the main image.

The question of who and how the Internet will be regulated is a long, on-going debate. Tech entrepreneurs would rather spend their time building products, rather than having to fight legislation that might stifle growth.

During the SOPA and PIPA debates, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian became one of the faces of the opposition against the proposed laws.

"I gained prominence during SOPA because my entire way of life was being threatened," Ohanian said on a press call. "We've been busy spending our attention innovating instead of lobbying on Capitol Hill." Ohanian hopes  it will stay that way and that the IDL will be an organization that can take on lawmakers, so tech entrepreneurs can focus on innovation.

Forming the IDL could also help improve the dialog between parties on different sides of the debate. The Motion Picture Association of America, which supported SOPA and PIPA, expressed support for the organization and released this statement to CBS News:

We couldn't agree more with the Internet Defense League that an internet that works for everyone is critical to both our economy and our national identity - and in order for the internet to work for everyone, we need to set balanced policies that help protect hard work while still encouraging the freedom to create. The creative community, like the tech community, is built entirely on ideas and innovation. The free flow of information on the internet is critical, but it can't be promoted at the expense of creators and their rights.

The IDL did not specify if there are any proposed laws they are watching at the moment. They do, however, have a sense of humor. The organization is literally going to flash a "cat signal" into the sky Thursday night in at least four cities: New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Ulaarbataar, Mongolia.

More information on the IDL can be found on its website.

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