Who could have imagined that a Web site featuring oddly-worded captions accompanying cat photos could one day hold so much sway? But Cheezburger Network, which is celebrating its fifth year anniversary this week, is now using its power as one of the Web’s largest comedy networks for something that CEO Ben Huh doesn’t think is a laughing matter.
Huh has become one of the most vocal critics of the Stop Online Privacy Act, calling the proposed federal legislation “cancer to the free Web.” There’s a lot at stake for Huh’s growing empire, which is moving to new offices in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood in the coming days.
The legislation would allow copyright holders to shut down Web sites that were accused of copyright infringement. Huh has already put pressure on GoDaddy to reverse its position on the controversial legislation, threatening to pull the company’s domains off the registrar. (GoDaddy caved to the pressure, also brought by Wikipedia and others, and switched course earlier this year).
Now, Huh is taking things a step further. He’s planning to black-out the company’s ever-expanding network of more than 50 comedy Web sites on January 18th over SOPA and PIPA, acounterpart legislation known as the Protect IP Act.
“All Cheezburger sites will also be instituting a blackout on January 18th to protest SOPA and PIPA. Now, go ask Wikipedia to do it,” Huh said in a Tweet on Thursday. Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales said he’s considering taking the popular online encyclopedia offline in protest of the legislation, a black-out being led by Reddit which noted in a blog post this week that “there are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet.”
“Blacking out reddit is a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community,” the company wrote.
Huh’s crusading comes after the company scored $30 million in venture capital from Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group and others last year. And it comes as the company’s network continues to grow, with a monthly audience of some 20 million visitors. (Just this week it launched yet another new site called Animal Lovers where you can watch a lizard mounting a turtle).
Cheezburger’s mission is to make everyone in the world happy for five minutes each day. On January 18th, however, it looks as if folks will have to go elsewhere to find their laughs.