If you use Wikipedia for research, be forewarned. Beginning January 18, 2012, the site will go dark for 24 hours. As an act of protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales will blackout the English-language site at 05:00 UTC. The only thing visitors will see on the landing page of Wikipedia’s English-language site is a letter of protest, in which Wikipedia urges them to get involved.
Eighteen hundred “Wikipedians” spent three days discussing how to protest SOPA and PIPA, a blackout of the English-language site received the largest number of votes. The German-language site will post a banner in support of the protest. What other versions of the site will do remains unknown, but sites like Reddit, Boingo Boingo and the Cheezeburger Network – to name a few – will show their solidarity by going black on Jan. 18 as well.
“We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make sense of it,” explained Wikipedia on their site.
“But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or, if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of already popular ideas will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.”
Organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) have, naturally, spoken out against these two bills since their inception because passing them into law would hinder journalists’ ability to do research.
According to Congress, SOPA and PIPA are designed to prevent people from illegally copying music and videos from the Internet. If passed into law, they will do much more than protect entertainers and movie studios. They will severely curtail search engines’ effectiveness by blocking not only sites with pirated content but also the services that they use.
Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer; and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff gave this response, on the White House’s behalf, to two petitions that landed on its doorstep:
“Right now, Congress is debating a few pieces of legislation concerning the very real issue of online piracy. … We want to take this opportunity to tell you what the Administration will support — and what we will not support. Any effective legislation should reflect a wide range of stakeholders, including everyone from content creators to the engineers [who] build and maintain the infrastructure of the Internet.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
Online piracy is a real threat, but is it as a big a threat as our government would like us to believe? From the looks of it, the cure for this cyber malady is worse than the malady itself.