Today, Wikipedia will be “blacked out” in order to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act currently in Congress. The site, which is ranked the sixth-most popular on the Internet, released a statement on January 16 detailing its reasons for the blackout saying, “We want the internet to remain free and open, for everyone, everywhere.” Although the blackout has met with opposition, including from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, it serves a valuable purpose in raising awareness around two extremely dangerous bills and increasing pressure on Congress to vote them down.
Although the White House recently announced its opposition to SOPA and PIPA — SOPA has since been shelved by Congress, although the Senate is expected to vote on whether to consider PIPA on January 24 — the spirit and money behind the bills are still active. In addition to incentivizing service providers to block users and sites (“in good faith” and with “credible evidence”), SOPA and PIPA would allow the Attorney General to remove entire domain names, and restrict online innovation. (Although there are differences between SOPA and PIPA, they are very similar — except SOPA was introduced in the House of Representatives, and PIPA will be debated by the Senate). And although the bills have been largely supported by entertainment interests in the name of anti-pirating, there are already laws that allow copyright holders to easily remove material from offending sites.
Wikipedia's decision to join other sites such as Reddit and Boing Boing in blacking out Wednesday has, as mentioned, been met with opposition from Congresspeople in support of the bills as well as prominent anti-SOPA sites. Twitter, Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook have all announced their opposition to the bills — but will be taking more passive tactics. Many critics of SOPA and PIPA feel that the gesture by Wikipedia doesn't provide precise fixes, that the blackout is a “gimmick,” that the blackout overextends to the entire English-language Wikipedia, not just the American one, and that the site, which bills itself as the “free encyclopedia anyone can edit,” is serving a valuable purpose against censorship just by staying open.
While this last criticism seems the most valid, it's also worth pointing out the flurry of web pages that have erupted in the past few days explaining the Wikipedia blackout — and more critically, SOPA and PIPA themselves. The message Wikipedia is trying to send is not that it has a fix to the problem; it is trying to help people learn about two bills in Congress that could change the way the internet works. In that sense, it has certainly (already) succeeded.
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