If you try looking something up today on Wikipedia, you won’t be able to. The ubiquitous online encyclopedia is shutting down as a way to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently before Congress. Other sites, such as Reddit and Boing Boing are also joining the strike. Google and others will not shut down, but they will put up messages decrying the attempt at internet “censorship.” Here are some details:
Though the Stop Online Piracy Act has the support from the likes of Hollywood, the music industry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many Silicon Valley firms say it effectively amounts to censorship. To show their opposition to the bill, some sites are planning a service blackout on Jan. 18. Hayley Tsukayama reports:
Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing are planning to black out their services Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act by showing users the bill’s effect on Web companies. These companies object to language in the bills, which are aimed at stopping online piracy on foreign Web sites, that grant the U.S. government the right to block entire Web sites with copyright-infringing content on them from the Internet.
Wikipedia will block all of its English-language pages — the first time since the encylopedia’s 2001 launch that it has ever restricted access to those pages as a form of protest.
“[It’s] a decision that wasn’t lightly made,” the company said on its blog Monday. The decision to take down the free encyclopedia’s English pages was made with the input of 1800 Wikipedia users who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the blackout, according to statement from the Wikimedia Foundation. . . .
What would SOPA do? As I understand it, the target is sites that pirate movies and music. But what the bill does is to allow for court orders that would actually take down sites–including those from other countries–by delisting the domains and stopping search engines and service providers from accessing them. From Everything You Need to Know about Congress’s Online Piracy Bills:
At a basic level, SOPA — and its Senate analogue, the Protect IP Act — would enable copyright holders and the Justice Department to get court orders against sites that “engage in, enable, or facilitate” copyright infringement. That could include, say, sites that host illegal mp3s or sites that link to such sites (the revised House bill focuses primarily on foreign sites like, oh, Pirate Bay). Courts could bar advertisers and payment companies such as PayPal from doing business with the offending sites in question, order search engines to stop listing the accused infringers, or even require Internet service providers to block access entirely. The bills contain other provisions, too, like making it a felony to stream unauthorized content online. . . .
Why are tech start-ups so vehemently opposed? These companies have argued that the bills are tantamount to Internet censorship. Rather than receiving a notification for copyright violations, sites now face immediate action — up to and including being taken down before they have a chance to respond. Intermediary sites like YouTube and Flickr could lose their “safe harbor” protections. Nonprofit or low-budget sites might not have the resources to defend themselves against costly lawsuits. And, meanwhile, larger companies like Google and Facebook could be forced to spend considerable time and money policing their millions of offerings each day for offending material.
Do these online piracy bills threaten free speech? Plenty of law professors, including Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, think so. The original version of the bill would have allowed copyright holders to block advertising and payment services for an accused Web site before a judicial hearing even took place. The new version of the House bill would require a hearing first, but, as Julian Sanchez notes, the bill “still makes it far too easy for U.S. corporations to effectively destroy foreign Internet sites based on a one-sided proceeding in U.S. courts.” Other critics have worried that the bill’s language is far too broad, threatening all sorts of potentially benign Internet uses. What’s more, the Electronic Frontier Foundation worries that the bill cracks down on electronic tools to circumvent government blacklists that are essential to human rights activists and political dissidents around the world.
Could the bills actually “break” the Internet? Many tech experts think so. The bills would give courts the power to order rogue sites to be de-listed from the Domain Name System — basically, the Internet’s phone directory. U.S. service providers would be tasked with acting as if the site didn’t exist at all (although the newly revised House bill gives a little bit of flexibility here). A big potential pitfall here is that the Internet is global, and it’s possible that users could seek out foreign DNS servers to access blacklisted sites. Some experts have raised security concerns about this splintering of the Internet’s architecture.
I’m curious who in Congress is pushing for this? Democrats or Republicans or both?
Do you think this is much-needed protection of intellectual and creative property? Or are the methods too heavy-handed, with unintended consequences that could damage the internet as a whole?