In a dramatic statement of protest regarding a proposed law targeting online piracy, Wikipedia has announced that the English version of its website will go ‘dark’ tonight at midnight, US Eastern Standard Time. The site will remain closed for 24 hours.
The protest is against pending legislation before congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) .
Many of the largest companies in both the movie and music industries are in favor of of the proposed legislation. They believe the laws will help them combat the profusion of illegally copied movies and TV shows being distributed through the internet. Some of the broadcasting related companies that support the legislation include Time Warner, Comcast/NBC, CBS, ABC, ESPN, CMT, the NFL, MLB, Sony, Viacom, News Corporation, the Motion Picture Assoc. of America, Marvel, and Disney, among others.
A number of non-broadcasters are in support too, in part because a portion of the laws will allow authorities to block the IP addresses of sites alleged to sell counterfeit goods. These companies include Visa and Mastercard, the National Sheriffs’ Assoc, the Fraternal Order of Police, the US Chamber of Commerce, Revlon, Tiffany and Co. and others.
Standing against the legislation are companies and organizations such as Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Reddit, AOL, eBay, Twitter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, Mozilla, Go Daddy and others. Go Daddy was famously for it before they were against it. Google, Facebook and others have also threatened to shut down their websites for a day as part of the protest, according to NetCoalition, but have not announced dates. The legislation would be especially troubling for social media sites, such as Google owned YouTube, or Facebook and Wikipedia (not to mention a huge number of smaller social media sites), which feature user contributed content.
One of the most controversial portions of the bill allows authorities to ‘blacklist’ sites that are alleged to distribute copyrighted content or counterfeit goods without due process, making them unreachable in the US.
Proponents also have said the proposed legislation would be devastating to free speech and seriously damage the internet as we know it today. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who has posted a page concerning their grievances here, not only will the bill target sites involved with copyright infringement, but will also allow authorities to target and blacklist sites that provide information about circumventing the proposed laws.
The EFF also states that ISP’s will be under pressure to block sites that might be infringing on copyrights proactively, without any legal oversight. This might cause ISP’s to over-block just to be on the ‘safe’ side and to avoid possible court costs. They also say this portion of the bill could be easily abused: “For instance, an Internet service provider could block DNS requests for a website offering online video that competed with its cable television offerings, based upon “credible evidence” that the site was, in its own estimation, promoting its use for infringement,” the EFF says on their site.
For Wikipedia’s part, they say on their site that this is the “first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made….But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not.”
- “Where it (knowledge) can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia.” wrote Kat Walsh, Wikimedia Foundation board member, on a Wikipedia mailing list. “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 ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.”