10 Things I Think About the Wikipedia Blackout

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:

  1. Way to fight fire with fire, Jimmy Wales! If this works, will you follow up with blackouts in protest of copyright and taxes?
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. And speaking of principles, Wales follows up his controversial fund-raising campaign by… keeping the money and not doing business for a while. Really?
  7. Peaceful resistance worked for Mahatma Gandhi. But he was just fighting the British army, not the all-powerful MPAA and RIAA media empires.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Rosetta Stone and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Rosetta Stone and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (35) | Recommend This Article (19)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 12:04 PM, ETFsRule wrote:

    Responding to #9 and #10: That is one of the most moronic arguments I have ever read. Using twitter trends to judge which approach is more effective? Seriously?

    Google is the most-visited website in the world. Regardless of their approach, their message was obviously going to be seen by more people than Wiki's message.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 1:18 PM, AdamCatalyst wrote:

    This is quite possibly the most juvenile and misinformed thing I've read on the Motley Fool. If you are going to be ignorant, at least be entertaining. This is just insulting.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 1:52 PM, FoolApparent wrote:

    Pointless article... providing a link on Fool.com that points to copyrighted material would cause exactly what wikipedia claims... your site would shut down because it would be up to you to monitor the thousands of links that are posted daily.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 1:53 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    Here's another way to measure effectiveness. Try going to Wikipedia. The blackout prompt asks you to contact your Congresspersons and then provides a handy link to their contact forms (provided by using your ZIP code to locate the proper reps).

    Now try using that contact form.

    As of my last two checks - at roughly 11:20 AM and 12:20 PM, Eastern time - almost every Senator's contact form that I tried to open gave me a message that the page was overloaded and out of service.

    I'm sure people are bitching on Twitter - that's what Twitter is for - but a great many people appear to be doing exactly what Wikipedia aimed for.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 1:53 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    Okay, Wikipedia is no small potatoes either. It's the 6th most trafficked site on the Web according to Alexa, after Google, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, and Baidu. So the action will be seen by the masses.

    Twitter users are arguably among the people most likely to agree with these anti-SOPA actions, and yet the fact that Wiki is down evokes a stronger response. Short of hiring Gallup or Nielsen for a poll of statistically significant size, it's as good a sentiment barometer as you'll find, especially on techy issues.

    @antoszekrallo, if you're going to attack me, at least use some ammunition. What "misinformation" are you talking about?

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 2:15 PM, Canuck2010 wrote:

    Google putting a black bar across their logo wouldn't even be noticed by most people since a lot of searches (if not the majority) are done from search fields directly on browsers. On the otherhand, Wikipedia shutting down for a day has generated a lot of media attention, which has in turn generated a lot of public reaction. I think this has been incredibly effective and I see now that President Obama has promised to veto the legislation if it comes to his desk. So the internet is safe--at least for another year.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 2:23 PM, kburns1979 wrote:

    This article is utterly pointless and brings nothing to the SOPA/PIPA debate table. Anders, your attempt to be lighthearted and humorous makes fool.com look like a content farm.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 2:48 PM, PhulishMortal wrote:

    ". . . your attempt to be lighthearted and humorous makes fool.com look like a content farm."

    The Fool motto: "To Educate, Amuse, and Enrich."

    It's at the top of the home page. Why do so many people forget about the "Educate" and "Amuse" parts?

    Now, you may not find it that amusing, and that's OK -- different strokes for different folks and all -- but I imagine some people did. At least he tried.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 3:22 PM, TMFZahrim wrote:

    By the way, XKCD is blacked out in protest of SOPA/PIPA today. Check back again tomorrow for a terrific archive of intelligent comic strips.

    Also, what @PhulishMortal said.

    Anders

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 3:38 PM, Merton123 wrote:

    I believe that there may have been an overreaction to the anti piracy bills. Isn't the intent of the legislation to make it more difficult for people outside the USA to copy software and not pay any royalties? That is why the legislation is called the anti piracy legislation. Can software piracy be solved through more stringent regulations? If the answer is no - which small cap companies are best positioned to help business avoid software piracy?

    I sympathize with Motley Fools - they have to generate several articles every day to draw interest to their website. I believe that the Motley Fool author missed an opportunity to add value to the discussion by discussing why there is such a large disconnect between what congress is trying to do and the public reaction to the proposed new legislation.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 4:08 PM, Darwood11 wrote:

    It's my opinion that the current administration needs to get its act together. (Perhaps, less time in Hawaii and more in Illinois? Sorry, that's the pragmatist in me!).

    It's my opinion that we need a real, as in pragmatic, discussion about piracy. Ditto for energy policy.

    However, since the current political climate seems to be based on give aways, and obscure politics (abortions are more important then living children, and the elderly are more important than children) I can hardly expect a rationale discussion on these issues, much less the more important problems of a coherent energy policy!

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 4:51 PM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    @Darwood: President Obama has taken roughly 20 vacation days a year. That's roughly on par with the American average - and his job is a lot more stressful than average. And he's on call the whole time. The man has a family, you know.

    I'd be interested in a pragmatic discussion about piracy, but I think one of the most important points - that the dead-weight loss generated by obscene copyright laws represents a much bigger drag on productivity and content generation than piracy does - would prove unpopular, no matter how true it is, because those who would endorse such a position are relatively powerless, whereas those who would oppose it have a lot invested in rent-seeking IP legislation.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 5:46 PM, Emrson wrote:

    Worst article I've seen from this website in a few months of following it. I'd think that bills that (if they became law) would cause regulatory overreach, curtail freedom of expression, and foster a litigious environment, would find ready objections here. A fair and accessible internet pipeline, rather than one that redundantly empowers a few big corporations at the expense of entrepreneurs, innovators, and everyday people, is absolutely necessary to a thriving tech and information sector. This article's arguments sound to me more like sniping at WikiMedia than any sort of credible defense of the unnecessary and detrimental SOPA and PIPA.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 5:56 PM, nbsixer wrote:

    You can still view wikipedia today if you know what article you want to see. Just type the direct address into your bar (or if you have a wikipedia search bar...which is available on most browsers type what you are looking for in there)...then you will see the site load for a second before the black screen comes up "in protest". All you have to do is hit "stop" on your browser before the black screen comes up and you can read the article.

    Interestingly, this also works on the NYT's site (after you have read your allotted 20 articles a month) without a subscription.

    Although the NYT's workaround could be found a bit unethical I think it is fine to use this for wikipedia today....the extra effort should be reminder enough of the point they are trying to make about SOPA.

    My job (chemist) would be much harder without a quick reference site like wikipedia.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 7:14 PM, CaptainWidget wrote:

    Every web 2.0 site should be rallying against these bills. If, in this box in which I'm currently typing, instead of writing witty economic banter, I instead posted a link to the latest episode of "kitchen nightmares", fool.com would be liable for copyright infringement.

    Is that really a burden you want to take on? I can't really gauge the tone of the article (perhaps a lack of creative writing ability) but if you're seriously critiquing Wikipedia's choice to go dark for 24 hours, you need to step back and evaluate what this could mean to the future.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 7:34 PM, redclaymud wrote:

    The more I read into this article the more convinced I became that the author must be sniffling glue or something of it's nature. Perhaps they turned off the oxygen to his end of Motley Fool Headquarters.

    This jibberish attempt at humor is not something expected from a higher authority, such as the Motley Fool.

    No, I didn't read the entire article. The first few paragraphs were enough. I read it to the The Collapse of the Euro and determined that the author was not worth listening.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 8:31 PM, EzekielBoozer wrote:

    I've already moved my domains away from Go Daddy for their foolish (really stupid) actions related to SOPA. This article makes me wonder if I should also cancel my Motley Fool subscription.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 9:06 PM, evtouse wrote:

    Anders, this article reads like a tasteless,sophomoric, misguided attempt at humor. As such, I am not sure why The Motley Fool is currently featuring it on their home page. It just seems to me that you are unsucessfully poking fun at a company trying to do the right thing. I am pulling my punches here with my comments, because I really am having a difficult time understanding just what you were trying to accomplish.

    Yes, yes, entertainment, amusement, got it. I wouldn't worry too much about offending Mr. Letterman with your Top 10 list. He will not be threatened. Nor will he call you for material. Good grief.

    At least all was not lost. Reading the article to the end gave me my 289th reminder on how to profit from the collapse of the Euro. Please continue to link this great offer to each and every article on the site. By my 300th reading I may give in and click the link.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 9:16 PM, LS960 wrote:

    This article just plain sucks. The attempt at wit and humor is cringe worthy. The author completely misses the idea that Wikimedia's "protest" is only an effort to raise awareness. The site is hardly blocked. A simple google search will tell you how to get around it...it's as easy as hitting Esc on the keyboard before the black screen shows up. Hell, even Wikipedia itself has a page on how to get around the blackout and explains that its position is only to raise awareness. Why is this article even front page?

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 11:25 PM, IceTWannaBe wrote:

    I'm a 24 year old student, and i must say that the wikipedia blackout, as well as other major websites, has raised awareness among my peers. I told many people about this bill a few weeks back and they did not care, but now they are up in arms and have signed multiple petitions. Wikipedia's blackout is a massive success for raising awareness for this bill. My facebook page is full of people posting links to petitions, and the comments on those links are lively with discussion. In summation, the internet blackout today has been a smashing success.

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2012, at 11:56 PM, BBLBBD wrote:

    I've never understood the appeal of Wikipedia. All the "entries" read like they were written by some unemployed English major trying to prove a point, and the information in the entries must be double checked with a real reference. Sure it's great for family arguments or bar bets, but anyone who uses it for real research is taking a gamble.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 1:51 AM, DonnyCMU wrote:

    Seeing the way your logic works, please remind me not to take investment advice from this article's author.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 2:51 AM, lowmaple wrote:

    instead of bashing the writer blame the editor for making this the #1 story. For those of you who are going to drop your subscription, good luck on finding a perfect stock service.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 4:26 AM, jonbr wrote:

    Epic fail at trying to be funny.

    Here's an article on how SOPA and PIPA would be bad for business: http://radoff.com/blog/2012/01/17/pipa-sopa-bad-business/

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 4:58 AM, MichaelDSimms wrote:

    Fact of the matter, there are already copyright laws. This is merely an attempt to provide lawyers with more litigation opportunities. They can't track down arrest and sue the overseas hackers and so they provide the opportunity to sue the web providers here. Since they run the sites which the hackers sell and post their stolen wares on. It's like punishing the gun makers for criminals shooting and robbing with the guns they manufacture. And yet another misguided attempt to regulate and punishing everyone except the actual criminals.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 9:22 AM, Kdesert wrote:

    Agree with everyone else. Voicing my opinion. What a terrible article. Hope this disappears from the home page soon....

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 9:28 AM, sesameball wrote:

    I gotta agree, this is a pretty tasteless attempt to be funny.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 9:34 AM, DCUDFlyer wrote:

    Not the best article I've read, nor the worst. The article (I think) was just a lighthearted, entertaining attempt to cover SOPA/PIPA. If you are looking for the nuts and bolts of the legislation, look them up yourselves. I don't think this was the intent of the article and in my opinion, didn't mislead the reader into believing that was the case.

    I am a bit curious to hear if anyone is actually FOR SOPA/PIPA. Always enjoy hearing the other side to an argument.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 10:16 AM, vasco42 wrote:

    I opened up this article hoping to read the kind of thoughtful, well-informed argument I expect and regularly see on this website.

    I was wrong.

    All three Fool mission statements were missed here. I was not educated, I was far from enriched, and I was definitely not amused. I'm not sure why this article received front-page coverage.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 10:24 AM, whereaminow wrote:

    Well, this certainly is an emotional topic. I support Wikipedia and the thousands of sites that protested yesterday. It was a powerful show of force.

    13 senators have changed their position because of the heat.

    The real travesty of the bill was that it tried to address a technology that neither the lobbyists nor the politicians understand. And when they consulted Silicon Valley and got rebuked, they went ahead with their plans anyway. Technologically speaking, the original bill was a travesty, particularly on how it impacted DNS. The supporters of SOPA/PIPA were warned. They just didn't listen because they are arrogant pukes.

    If this is the start of a continuing battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the latter is going to win. It's old money vs. new money. Old tech vs. new tech. Hollywood has no shot but to try and use government violence to keep SV down. It ain't gonna work. They don't understand what they're up against. And that they don't understand it is part of the reason they are in the position they find themselves in the first place.

    David

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 11:13 AM, wolfman225 wrote:

    One thing missing from all of the comments (and from the OP as well) is any mention of an alternative action that content/copyright owners could take to protect their intellectual property rights.

    After a brief scan of the proposed legislation(s)--legalese gives me a headache--I gather that the basic intent is to provide a mechanism to hinder the dissemination of copyrighted material by (mostly overseas-based) websites.

    While I don't like the overreach by government (shutting down certain sites seems much too totalitarian, similar to what's been done in Venezuela, China, and many Middle Eastern countries), I can certainly see the point of those in the entertainment industry. Who wants to spend millions producing content for a profit, only to see it spread across the web for little or nothing by piracy sites? Where would the incentive be for people to create new content if there is no opportunity to earn?

    This all reminds me of the legal wrangling several years ago between the music industry and Napster. Remember that? If you're under 30, you might not. Record producers and recording artists were angry about illegal file sharing sites that allowed people to download songs/albums without having to bother to pay for them. The argument used by Napster and other sites was that THEY weren't actually pirating material, they were just providing a platform for members to share. Eventually, Napster went away and the industry provided it's own service (for a fee) which failed due to resentment by those who desired "something for nothing".

    Eventually, the problem was solved by Steve Jobs creation of iTunes. Very few (in the US, at least) now bother to find a site to download pirated songs. Perhaps a similar solution to pirating of other copyrighted content can be developed, but all of this knee-jerk reactionism against an industry trying to maintain it's profitability, and those trying to come up with a solution is less than productive.

    TMF has written into it's Terms of Service that members should not submit material or imbed graphics that they do not hold a right to. I believe that any site that hosts a forum has an obligation to police the site's use by members as much as is practicable. I don't think that some third party (ie, government) should be allowed to block access, UNLESS after several complaints from content owners that their protected material has been unlawfully posted (and that their attempts to contact the owner/administrator of the site to correct the situation have been ignored) and that content owners have gotten court judgements in their favor that have been further ignored by the site's owner's. At that point, it's clear that the operators of the site have no intention of running a legitimate service and should be blocked and prosecuted to the fullest extent.

    Existing copyright law should also be revisited to eliminate the carveout's that exempt certain entities from prosecution. The proper role for government then would be to prosecute foreign purveyors of stolen US intellectual property, as opposed to trying to control media access to the domestic population.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 11:47 AM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    @whereaminow - that's exactly right. Hollywood is engaged in active rent-seeking to preserve a faltering business model.

    The argument from Hollywood is "if we don't stop file sharing, where will the incentive to make movies and music come from?"

    But that poses some very important questions of its own.

    1) Do they mean that file sharing prevents them from making money, or do they mean the existence of file sharing prevents them from making AS MUCH money?

    2) Is their current business model actually threatened? If so, is that the only business model they could pursue?

    3) Do people actually fail to create content without million dollar payoffs? Is there a shortage of content for consumers given the overwhelming prevalance of file sharing that the MPAA cites?

    As Wolfman points out, iTunes and similar sites largely addressed the problem. I haven't illegally downloaded a song since the days of Napster, because it is quick, easy, painless, cheap, and ethical for me to pay for songs through sites like Trackitdown.net or Beatport.com.

    For movies, on the other hand, I simply don't buy them, because if I try to find a movie for download, there are simply very few legitimate sources for such a movie, and few movies hosted on those sources. Obviously there is a market for movie and TV downloads, and the industry - rather than address that - is trying to smother the black market that's arisen. That's extremely inefficient rent-seeking - the problem is that there is huge pentup demand for content and they are refusing to meet it even though they are an industry expressly geared towards creating and delivering content. It boggles the mind.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 11:51 AM, DJDynamicNC wrote:

    And by the way, I hope the author of this article doesn't take some of the harsher comments posted to heart - we're a tough crowd, but you got a good conversation going which means the article was a success.

    And I appreciated learning about Scandinavian languages.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 2:12 PM, whereaminow wrote:

    Since TMF is to educate, here are some good SOPA/PIPA links that do just that:

    EFF: One-page guide to SOPA.

    https://www.eff.org/sites/default/files/One-Page-SOPA_0.pdf

    reddit: A technical overview of the SOPA and PIPA bills

    http://blog.reddit.com/2012/01/technical-examination-of-sopa...

    DYN: How these bills would break DNS

    http://dyn.com/sopa-breaking-dns-parasite-stop-online-piracy...

    EFF: Free speech on the web

    https://www.eff.org/free-speech-weak-link

    David

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2012, at 5:36 PM, 1spring wrote:

    I had no trouble following the link to my senator -- and telling him that the government has been drooling for internet control for years. I just can't be allowed to have it. I remains a breadth of fresh clean air, albeit filled with strange life forms.

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