January 18, 2012
The House and the Senate are working up anti-piracy bills, respectively code-named SOPA and PIPA. If passed in their original forms, these measures would fundamentally change the structure of the Internet, making online publishers utterly responsible for anything their users might say or do. In a fully SOPA-fied future, posting a link to copyright-infringing material in the comments to this story could lead to The Fool going offline for weeks while the courts figure out what happened.
This frame, used with permission from XKCD, illustrates the futility of regulating the Web. He'll be up all night.
That's how the Wikimedia Foundation sees it, anyhow. To protest the twin bills, the foundation has taken the English version of Wikipedia offline on Wednesday, showing lawmakers exactly what they're asking for. Rather than crowdsourced overviews of white blood cells and the economy of Nepal, now you get a black page with a handy form to find your local Congress members and file a complaint.
With mild apologies to David Letterman, here are the top 10 things I think about the Wikipedia blackout:
- Way to fight fire with fire, Jimmy Wales! If this works, will you follow up with blackouts in protest of copyright and taxes?
- Why not just learn Spanish or Mandarin in case the English Wikipedia goes dark again? Rosetta Stone must love that idea as anything that raises interest in language learning surely must be good for the company.
- Speaking of languages, "sopa" is the Swedish word for "sweep" or "trash," while "pipa" means "pipe." Do the lawmakers know Scandinavian languages, and what were they smoking?
- SOPA creates community. How else could you get Wikimedia, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Twitter all working toward a common goal? All of them have threatened to go dark in protest, though Wikimedia was the most committed to the cause. Google just slapped a big, black bar over its logo today, offering a less intrusive protest link. Yahoo! did nothing.
- Oh, but then again, Wikimedia is a nonprofit organization, while the others are all trying to run a business. Would it be too much to ask Google and Yahoo! to sacrifice at least a couple of hours of search-service profits, like in the middle of the night? There's a principle at stake here, folks!
- And speaking of principles, Wales follows up his controversial fund-raising campaign by… keeping the money and not doing business for a while. Really?
- Peaceful resistance worked for Mahatma Gandhi. But he was just fighting the British army, not the all-powerful MPAA and RIAA media empires.
- On the upside, Wikipedia going black means we don't have to fear that terrifying Chuck Norris-like gaze at the top of every page for 24 hours. You win some, you win some.
- The campaign seems to have missed its target a bit. Judging by the trending topics on Twitter, people just remembered that research can be done without Wikipedia. Google's action seems to resonate, however: Two phrases from its anti-SOPA pages are in the top 10 Twitter trends today.
- It looks like drastic action is less helpful than a measured response that keeps the lights on. Shutting down your main service just makes people angry. Who knew?
Will the Internet explode in a white-hot fireball without Wikipedia? Should the foundation have hit the brakes given that officials want to take the sting out of SOPA and PIPA? Has anybody learned anything important today? Add a basket of important Internet companies to your watchlist and check back again on Thursday -- if you still can.
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