Wikipedia will be joining the blackout planned for Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the two Congressional anti-piracy bills that are widely opposed by the tech community. Last week Reddit announced that it will be going dark from 8am till 8pm on Wednesday, January 18th, the day that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had called a hearing about SOPA. But, as of Saturday morning, Issa said that SOPA will be shelved and not voted on until “consensus” can be built. On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of PIPA, said he was open to changes about the DNS-blocking provision in the bill, another sign of politicians’ growing awareness of the extent of opposition to both bills.
Both SOPA and PIPA aim to curtail online piracy by giving the Department of Justice new powers to shut down sites that offer access to copyright materials including music, movies and TV shows. The tech community, including the likes of Google and Facebook, has strongly opposed both bills, contending that, while it is certainly necessary to fight online piracy, the two pieces of legislation currently being considered in Congress are flawed and, if passed, will stifle the freedom of expression and innovation that make the Internet what it is. The Obama administration has also expressed its concerns about how SOPA and PIPA could “[disrupt] the underlying architecture of the Internet.”
On Monday, Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, wrote on Twitter:
“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!”
Wikipedia will go dark from midnight Tuesday till midnight Wednesday (eastern time), an unprecedented event; the Italian-version of Wikipedia had staged a blackout in October in response to an anti-piracy bill proposed by the Italian Parliament. Only the English-language version of Wikipedia will be affected by Wednesday’s blackout.
As Wales said in a phone interview with the New York Times:
“What will make a difference is for ordinary people to pick up the phone and send an email or a letter to their representatives about this. When you consider the magnitude of how many people use Wikipedia globally, there is a potential here for really creating some noise and getting some attention in the U.S.”
Mr. Wales said that if passed, the bills could censor what information and links that sites like Wikipedia would be permitted to publish.
“The government could tell us that we could write a entry about the history of the Pirate Bay but not allow to link to it. That’s a First Amendment issue.”
Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns Fox Studios, got himself pelted with angry tweets after he posted on Twitter that Google is a “piracy leader… who streams movies free, sells advts around them.” “Just nonsense,” Google told CNet’s Greg Sandoval, adding that
Last year we took down 5 million infringing Web pages from our search results and invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads … We fight pirates and counterfeiters every day.
Murdoch’s comments, as Jeff Jarvis wrote on the Guardian, are a sign that the media magnate “is against the fundamental architecture of the web and the net” because he “cannot see past old models of owning content and selling it.”
The stream of online opposition to SOPA and PIPA is itself a sign of the power of the Internet to spread information and mobilize people to action. Wikipedia’s decision to join the blackout was the result of nearly 800 Wikipedia members debating since December. The technology site BoingBoing will also be joining the blackout. WordPress, the popular blogging platform, has indicated its opposition to SOPA and PIPA and users can add a widget to their blog that will display a banner in support of the protest.
Google and Twitter have not yet indicated if they will participate in the blackout. Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has dismissed Wikimedia’s plan to join the blackout as “silly,” commenting that “closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.” But SOPA’s and PIPA’s provisions extend not only to US websites, but to foreign ones; the laws would give the DOJ the power to shut down oversea sites, if they are found to offer pirated material.
Everyone agrees that online piracy is a serious problem. SOPA and PIPA do protect copyright owners, but in a way that could do serious danger to the freedom of expression that we have come to know and value on the Internet. There is a need for legislation to address online piracy, but not in the form of SOPA and PIPA. Said Wales in another Tweet,
We have no indication that SOPA is fully off the table…PIPA is still alive and kicking. We need to send Washington a BIG message.
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