Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fade to Black .... Update Below: TV Tropes Protest and IN Senator Contacts...Update II: It's Going, Going, Galt!

The theme today is darkness. Google has blacked out their logo, though their site still operates. Wikipedia has made good on their promise to black out their site. When I went there this morning, I saw the page I was on for a scant moment before it vanished and this screen showed up.

I sorely underestimated the problems this bill would cause until I saw Google and Wikipedia both upset over it. But they're right. Just because I'm a little late to the party doesn't mean that they're not right.

From CNN:

The bills [SOPA and PIPA] are intended to strengthen protections against copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, but Internet advocates say they would stifle expression the World Wide Web. In essence, the legislation has pitted content providers -- like the music and film industries -- against Silicon Valley.

"It's not a battle of left versus right," said progressive activist Adam Green, whose organization Progressive Change Campaign Committee on Tuesday hosted a press conference with opponents of the bills. "Frankly, it's a battle of old versus new."

...The popular link-sharing site Reddit got the ball rolling for today's 24-hour Internet blackout. In addition to Reddit and Wikipedia, other sites participating include BoingBoing, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic, and the ICanHasCheezBurger network. Search giant Google is showing its solidarity with a protest doodle and message: "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web," but the site planned no complete blackout...

...Internet companies and their investors would readily say that they're holding the "blackout" to protect their corporate interests -- and the entire burgeoning Internet-based economy.
"The success of Reddit... is one of the smaller examples of the success that has happened in our industry -- and will continue to unless bills like SOPA or PIPA become law," Ohanian said Tuesday.

Under the rules SOPA or PIPA would impose, Ohanian and others argue, start ups wouldn't be able to handle the costs that come with defending their sites against possible violations. Such sites would not be able to pay the large teams of lawyers that established sites like Google or Facebook can afford.

The legislation in question targets foreign companies whose primary purpose is to sell stolen or counterfeit goods -- but opponents say domestic companies could still be held liable for linking to their content. While sites like Reddit wouldn't have a legal duty to monitor their sites all the time, "you might have your pants sued off of you" if you don't, said Jayme White, staff director for the Senate Finance Subcommittee on international trade.
So if by mistake I link to a foreign website that deal in counterfeit goods, I get taken to task by the US Attorney General.
And what about American sites that use copyright content, such as YouTube. Arguably, YouTube allows for people to steal whatever songs they want, but on the other hand, I own six CDs that I would never have bought if I hadn't heard the songs first on YouTube.

I agree that piracy should be stopped, but this bill is a net cast too wide to do any good - it almost promises to do more harm than good.

The Senate is scheduled to have a vote on the bill on January 24th.


Updated 12:15 p.m. EST

For those of you who live in Indiana, you can contact Senator Lugar at his D.C. office by phone: (202) 224 - 4814. I tried calling a moment ago, but I got sent to a message because Lugar is getting swamped with calls.

To contact Senator Dan Coats at his D.C. office, the number is (202) 224-5623.

TV Tropes, my favorite site for wasting time, is also protesting SOPA today.

I really have this desire to keep recording this sort of stuff; who is protesting on their sites against SOPA.

Kudos to Google, Wikipedia, and all the other sites that are calling attention to this attack on freedom.


Update 2: The other sites worth seeing.

First, Google, for posterity.

I like what they've done with their logo. I contemplated something similar, but it's kind of hard to pull off when your original background for your banner is black.

Here we have LiveJournal's protests.

And finally ... I had some doubts about posting this. I had heard WordPress was protesting, but WordPress also killed an anti-Islam blog I really enjoyed. I did eventually go over to see what they were doing. It's kind of touching in a squishy way. If someone complains about you, we'll take your blog down, but we don't want to the government taking it down. (For the record, the blog they took down was Bare Naked Islam.)

Per Gateway Pundit and The Guardian, we have this list of the sponsors of SOPA dealing in .... copyright violations!! No joke! This bill that will shut websites down for not policing every single site they link too was written by a bunch of copyright infringers!!

I never did manage to get through to Lugar, it was either a machine, or when I did get through I was on a very wonky version of hold. I did get through to Coats and it may have been a wasted phone call, but I used to trust Mike Pence to do the right thing, too, and he tried to keep the government running when I wanted it shut down, so you can't be too careful.

Here is a giant collection of banners and logos and sites that did something to protest SOPA. Very cool.

So today, in protest of SOPA, the entire Internet went on complete of partial strike, or stood in solidarity with the strikers. The Internet went Galt, and I hear that Congress is getting a backlash now. Let's take a look...Ooh, from the New York Times, no less!

Phone calls and e-mails poured in to Congressional offices against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect I.P. Act in the Senate. One by one, prominent backers of the bills dropped off. ...

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.

The NYT then goes on to talk about how Hollywood is so menaced by the new force of the Internet, accusing the Internet of lying and all that other crap. Uh-huh. This, I think, is the other reason Congress wanted this bill. Without freedom to disseminate information, which the Internet gives us, how will we ever find the truth? As I said above, I own 6 CDs I would never have bought if someone hadn't posted copyrighted content to YouTube so I could listen and go, 'hey, I like that!'

The fight isn't quite over yet, but we've all made a good effort today. Kudos to everyone.

Going, going, Galt!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Even Wikipedia Understands the Danger of SOPA

Dear Congress, isn't there something else you should be working on, like lowering the deficit? Or does Freedom of Speech scare you that badly?

Alright, so Wikipedia isn't the best website in the world, but as far as extensive information goes, they are pretty good for it. It might not all be true but I'm a fiction writer so I don't care anyway. Yay artistic licence.

Wikipedia has something of a leftist tilt, but I've only noticed it in minor places. (I deal with it by staying off those pages.) I've seen that some of the more controversial articles are generally kept locked so that no one can come in off the web and edit them, which is a nice touch. The site also has extensive hyperlinks when they document things, and I find these to be very helpful.

Anyway, why is this important, you ask? Because even Wikipedia is in a tizzy over SOPA.

Here, have a look:

For the past several days, Wikipedia editors have been discussing whether to stage a protest against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). I’ve been asked to give some comments on the bill and explain what effect the proposed legislation might have on a free and open Internet as well as Wikipedia. My goal in this blog post is to provide some information and interpretation that I hope will be helpful to Wikipedia editors as they discuss the bill.
SOPA has earned the dubious honor of facilitating Internet censorship in the name of fighting online infringement. The Wikimedia Foundation opposed that legislation, but we should be clear that Wikimedia has an equally strong commitment against copyright violations. The Wikimedia community, which has developed an unparalleled expertise in intellectual property law, spends untold hours ensuring that our sites are free of infringing content. In a community that embraces freely-licensed information, there is no room for copyright abuses.
We cannot battle, however, one wrong while inflicting another. SOPA represents the flawed proposition that censorship is an acceptable tool to protect rights owners' private interests in particular media. That is, SOPA would block entire foreign websites in the United States as a response to remove from sight select infringing material. This is so even when other programs like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have found better balances without the use of such a bludgeon. For this reason, we applaud the excellent work of a number of like-minded organizations that are leading the charge against this legislation, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, Creative Commons, Center for Democracy and Technology, NetCoalition, the Internet Society,, and others.
On Tuesday, after receiving input on the original version of the bill, the House Judiciary Committee issued a new version of SOPA for its mark-up scheduled for this coming Thursday. A vote on that mark-up may take place on the same day. At the end of this article, I provide a summary of the most relevant parts of this new version of SOPA as well as a summary of the legislative process ...
In honesty, this new version of the bill is better (and credit goes to the Judiciary staff for that). But, it continues to suffer from the same structural pitfalls, including its focus on blocking entire international sites based on U.S.-based allegations of specific infringement. Criticism has been significant.  Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, for example, felt the bill “retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor by blocking Americans’ ability to access websites, imposing costly regulation on Web companies and giving Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice broad new powers to police the Internet.”
Members of our community are weighing whether a protest action is appropriate. I want to be very clear: the Wikimedia Foundation believes that the decision of whether to stage a protest on-wiki, such as shutting down the site or putting a banner at the top, is a community decision. The Wikimedia Foundation will support editors in whatever they decide to do. The purpose of this post is to provide information for editors that will aid them in their discussions.
I’ve been asked for a legal opinion. And, I will tell you, in my view, the new version of SOPA remains a serious threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.
Even Wikipedia gets the danger in this bill. So why is Congress dumber than an encyclopedia my instructors don't let me use while writing college papers?

Wikipedia is going to black out the site, with the exception of SOPA-relevant articles, for 24 hours sometime on or around January 18, 2011. Read the whole thing: it's lengthy but I think it's worth it.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that has been developed by tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world over the last 11 years. Together, we have created millions of articles containing billions of facts, referenced to hundreds of thousands of sources from around the world. We have grown to be one of the most frequently accessed websites in the world. Wikipedians are fiercely proud and protective of our ability to freely share knowledge with the rest of the world, as the first of 846 related projects in 280 languages working under the umbrella of the Wikimedia Foundation.

In late 2011, the United States Congress proposed two legislative bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which legal scholars and others have advised have the potential to significantly change the way that information can be shared through the Internet. It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.
Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.

On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States. The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead. We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations. For example, one British editor stated "American law is America's business, but law that affects Wikipedia worldwide is an issue of worldwide interest", a principle we felt had considerable support.
Therefore, on behalf of the English Wikipedia community, the Wikimedia Foundation is asked to allocate resources and assist the community in blacking out the project globally for 24 hours starting at 05:00 UTC on January 18, 2012, or at another time as determined by the Wikimedia Foundation. This should be carried out while respecting technical limitations of the underlying software, and should specifically prevent editing wherever possible. Provisions for emergency access to the site should be included in the blackout software. In order to assist our readers and the community at large to educate themselves about SOPA and PIPA, these articles and those closely related to them will remain accessible for reading purposes if possible. Wikipedians are urged to work with WMF staff to develop effective messaging for the "blackout screens" that directs readers to suitable online resources. Sister projects, such as the German and Italian Wikipedias and Wikimedia Commons, have indicated an intention to support the same principles with banners on those sites, and the support of other projects is welcome and appreciated.
Even Wikipedia gets it.

SOPA is just the latest in a long line of assaults on the Internet, as you can see from my new and improved fairness doctrine net neutrality SOPA banner up there, slated to replace the old 'fairness doctine' one very shortly.

Is online piracy a problem? Yes. But SOPA is too wide-reaching to fix the problem without tightly regulating every single American website.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, that smells a little like socialism. But our government couldn't possible want to foist that on us, could it?

To read the extremely extensive and very informative Wikipedia article on SOPA and the Great Wikipedia Blackout, it's here.