You may notice your Internet experience is a little different today. Thousands of Web sites, opponents of the controversial “anti-piracy” bills SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are protesting against the proposed legislation with a 24-hour blackout. On Jan. 18, popular sites including Wikipedia, and Boing Boing went dark for 24 hours starting at midnight ET Tuesday. Google is also protesting by blocking its logo, and adding information about the bills on its home page, although it will not go dark. In all, some 7000 sites are expected to participate in the protest.

The move is designed to ramp up public awareness of the proposed bills, which technologists and public advocates claim would destroy the Internet in its attempts to curb online piracy. The move comes as the White House last week said it would not support the bills as currently written and the bill’s sponsors in the House said they were now open to changing some of the provisions of SOPA. However, on January 23, the U.S. Senate returns to work, and indications are it could move on the PROTECT IP Act, a companion bill to SOPA.

“The Senate will debate this important bill, which has been pending on the Senate’s calendar since May, next week,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) one of the PROTECT IP Act’s sponsors. “We should have an open debate on the PROTECT IP Act. Hiding behind the black box of self-censorship does not resolve the problem that is plaguing American business and hurting American consumers.” Leahy said that claims about the bill by a large and growing list of opponents were “flatly wrong” and intended “to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions.” The PROTECT IP Act and SOPA are backed largely by the entertainment industry, including the Association of American Publishers.

However, the chorus of opposition from human rights advocates, constitutional scholars and the tech community, and the front-page coverage of today’s Internet blackout, demonstrates deep opposition to the bill, which critics say would curb free speech, foster censorship, and create “virtual blacklists.”