On every Wikipedia page the following message appears, emblazoned in a stark black banner: “Please note: In less than 15 hours, the English Wikipedia will be blacked out globally to protest SOPA and PIPA.” It then directs Wikipedia to “learn more” with a button on the lower right hand corner of the banner. The free, open-source internet encyclopedia will be joined by Reddit (who have exerted pressure on both Paul Ryan and Patrick Leahy regarding SOPA and PIPA), Mozilla and Boing Boing, as well as the sites in the Cheezburger Network..
SOPA and PIPA, subject of vigorous reporting and criticism here at Death and Taxes, was crafted to allow private entities or copyright holders, namely the entertainment industry, to petition the government to have any foreign site suspected of online piracy blockaded at the Domain Name System (DNS) level as well as financially through payment systems, and all without due process. Though online piracy is certainly problematic, the blockade of sites such as Tor (which enables anonymous activism and whistleblowing) and The Pirate Bay reeked of the tactics regularly used in totalitarian regimes such as China, Iran and Syria.
Last week, the chief sponsor of Protect IP Act (PIPA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), admitted that there were legitimate concerns with the bill, demanding further study into the implications of Internet Service Provider (ISP) blockades. Leahy and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chief sponsor of House bill SOPA, both agreed to remove the DNS requirement from the current versions of their respective bills. And on Saturday the Obama administration expressed opposition to the DNS requirement and other provisions, though it hedged by making the statement on a weekend, which is traditionally a wasteland for news.
Wikipedia provides users with information as to when it announced the blackout (yesterday, January 16th) and what precipitated the maneuver. The blackout will last 24 hours, worldwide, beginning “05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18.”
The site notes that “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.” Users are also encouraged to read the Wikimedia Foundation’s statement on the historic decision to black out service.
On January 16th, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales tweeted, “This is going to be wow. I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”
Boing Boing’s Corey Doctorow stated, “If you want an Internet where human rights, free speech and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry’s profits, I hope you’ll join us.”
Doctorow, however, does not share the point-of-view that piracy may be wrong but SOPA and PIPA are the wrong way to fight it, stating:
Even though a substantial portion of my living comes from the entertainment industry, I don’t think that any amount of “piracy” justifies this kind of depraved indifference to the consequences of one’s actions. Big Content haven’t just declared war on Boing Boing and Reddit and the rest of the “fun” Internet: they’ve declared war on every person who uses the net to publicize police brutality, every oppressed person in the Arab Springwho used the net to organize protests and publicize the blood spilled by their oppressors, every abused kid who used the net to reveal her father as a brutalizer of children, every gay kid who used the net to discover that life is worth living despite the torment she’s experiencing, every grassroots political campaigner who uses the net to make her community a better place — as well as the scientists who collaborate online, the rescue workers who coordinate online, the makers who trade tips online, the people with rare diseases who support each other online, and the independent creators who use the Internet to earn their livings.
The contempt for human rights on display with SOPA and PIPA is more than foolish. Foolishness can be excused. It’s more than greed. Greed is only to be expected. It is evil, and it must be fought.
Here is a full list of blackout protest participants.