Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has a tweet for students across the country: “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!”
And by “protest”, he means a full-on blackout, taking the sixth most visited website offline for twenty-four hours.
The English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout is to signify the possible–and likely–effects that SOPA AND PIPA will have on the internet if they manage to pass at the Congressional level. In case you’re in the dark about SOPA and PIPA, here’s a quick run-down: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act seek to protect intellectual property by enacting stringent laws against the distribution of copyrighted material online. In several melodramatic television spots, they claim that internet pirates are destroying American jobs, decreasing innovation in the entertainment industry, and probably ran over your dog when you were six. What supporters of the bills fail to note is that the language is so vague that any website can be shut down for having any piece of copyright material present on any of its pages. That means YouTube could be taken down if someone posts a video of themselves singing the karaoke version of a copyrighted song. It also means Facebook could be shut down if a copyrighted video is posted on one person’s wall, and thousands of other websites could be stomped out at the drop of a hat.
Oh, and did I mention that a person or entity doesn’t even have to own the rights to the content they claim a website is illegally distributing? And that SOPA and PIPA would effectively give the people who sued a 12-year-old, a dead woman, and claims that ripping music you have purchased to your computer is illegal the run of the internet?
Naturally, most of the tech community (i.e. Google, Facebook, YouTube, eBay, Twitter, and just about every website you will ever use, ever) and anyone with a brain knows that this is a bad idea. So they’re fighting back.
The tech community has been slowly gaining ground on the issue in the last few weeks; former supporters have backed out under pressure, and Congress has finally invited tech community representatives to speak on the issue, where previously they had only heard from representatives of the entertainment industry.
However, Wikipedia is not taking these positive moves as a sign to put the breaks on. The English version of Wikipedia will be blacked out tomorrow as a demonstration of the destructive effect SOPA and PIPA could have on the world wide web. “There’s [..] an element of this sending out a signal to governments in other parts of the world that the Internet is going to get really mad if you try to censor the Internet,” Wales said in an interview with CNN. “It’s quite ironic because the U.S. policy has been quite firmly about discouraging censorship of the Internet elsewhere. So it’s a bit of a shame that we’re trying to do it at home.”
Websites Reddit and Boing Boing will also be taking part in the blackout, and Google will posting a statement explaining its opposition SOPA/PIPA in solidarity with the protest.