Students doing research for a paper due on Thursday better buckle down and study hard tonight! Wikipedia won’t be an option starting at 5:00AM UTC tomorrow. Wikipedia plans to stage a blackout in protest of the controversial legislation called SOPA. Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director, Sue Gardner, wrote:
“The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate — that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.”
Yesterday, our own Chinmoy Kanjilal reported that U.S. Representative “Eric Cantor(R-VA) announced that he will stop all action on SOPA”. This news brought widespread joy for many internet users across the globe however, the reality is we’re far from out of the woods on this. There’s big money behind this bill and this recent action threatens to merely slow down the proponents of SOPA. To be perfectly honest, there is probably big money on both sides of this issue.
RIAA and MPIAA, which represent the entertainment industry, are the biggest proponents of this bill. On one hand they have legitimate concerns because of the piracy that is proliferated on the internet. However, on the other hand, the entertainment industry is a victim of its own inability to stay relevant in today’s society. They see many turning to alternative forms of entertainment via the internet and they know there is money to be made there. The problem however, is that instead of coming up with innovative ideas to draw a new generation of customers, they prefer to legislate the competition out of existence. The means by which SOPA would address online piracy would create a lot of collateral damage. Wikipedia recognizes that they could easily be damaged with this legislation.
One concern that Wikipedia had in making this decision, is that they prefer to be politically neutral. According to their letter, the decision to stage this protest wasn’t taken lightly. Though Wikipedia articles are considered neutral, its existence is not, which is what prompted Wikimedia Foundation board member, Kat Walsh, to write:
We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.
But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.
Tomorrow, I hope the blackout is deeply felt and that it calls us to action. Take a moment and learn what SOPA and PIPA are all about and make your voice heard. Though some of the intentions of this bill are good, the fact is the legislation in its current form is bad. The internet is the last frontier of true freedom we have on the planet. We need to appreciate its importance and stand up for it the best we can.
For more information see Wikipedia’s Letter: English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout