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.

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