Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced earlier today (Monday, January 16th) that the English version of Wikipedia will go dark for 24 hours this Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Wikipedia now joins the likes of Reddit, Boing Boing, WordPress, Mozilla, and icanhascheezburger, who will be levying full-scale blackouts of their Internet properties on the 18th. At midnight on Wednesday morning, all Wikipedia pages will be replaced with inspiring SOPA awareness content that will hopefully fuel all Wikipedia visitors to snatch up their calling devices and “melt phones” in Washington. At least that it what Wales hopes for.
This is going to be wow.I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday.Tell everyone you know!
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) January 16, 2012
So, Wednesday will come, and for a period of 12 hours, Reddit won’t deliver our beloved animal photos, rage trolls and LoTR memes; for 24 hours, Wikipedia will interrupt our independent research cycles—you’ll actually have to ‘fess up and admit you don’t know everything for a day—and people will still likely not call up their congress people. And even if they did, would it really matter?
SOPA and PIPA are god-awful pieces of legislation despite their adorable acronyms. While the acts have been in discussion for a long time and are iterations of older acts, they are now losing support in congress and from the white house—some credit this to the energized web community who is all too eager to inform congress they don’t understand the Internet. SOPA and PIPA dialogue have caused the Internet to blow up with hateful, crass, but sometimes insightful chatter about the acts. For those pointing fingers and the invigorated citizens of the Internet, all the hate isn’t in support of online piracy. It is predicated upon the acts not actually targeting what they claim: to protect copyright laws and intellectual property.
If the Internet operates with the technical precision and speed of a racing motorcar, then content providers in the music and film industries are lost burros aimlessly climbing and grazing the Andes. Piracy became a fad and continues to occur because suddenly the Internet was able to put the content within clicks reach and no real authority was there to tell us, “No!” Napster ushered in a grey area of content rights. “Is it stealing if it’s not a physical good?”; “How would they catch me?”; and “Nobody has shut the site down,” were all questions and arguments that came up at the time. The MPAA and RIAA eventually swooped in, decreed downloaders criminals and brought the hammer down on a couple individuals to show us who was boss. But, piracy persists. Why? Because it’s so much easier than the legal alternatives.
This is where the issue becomes substantial. The “alternatives” are what is flawed. Cable TV sucks, it’s difficult to put DVDs onto computers, what music you download on one computer is challenging to get to another, movies are expensive in the first place, streaming quality isn’t good enough, the Xfinity app constantly crashes, on and on and on. The legal solutions are riddled with errors in design, understanding, and intent. The government doesn’t need to intervene to protect companies who are all too content not to innovate.
There are some players who are taking strides toward changing the game. Hulu, Netflix and YouTube are all launching original online content in 2012. Spotify, Rdio, and Mog offer buffet style music streaming from their multimillion song libraries. And all of the six services mentioned are either free or single digit monthly fees. That’s what it takes to stop online piracy.
For now, it’s clear that, for the most part, the MPAA, RIAA, and their armies of lobbyists are hard on the fact that their industries bring billions of dollars to the economy each year, but completely unaware that advancing technologies on the Internet are the key to sustaining and growing their revenue in years to come. Blacking out Wikipedia won’t benefit anyone or cause people to storm Washington in outrage—though it may generate anger for those looking to solve fact-checking disputes. 12 hours without memes and gifs won’t have a significant impact either. If anything I see it as Jimmy Wale’s ego jumping on top of a car and beating its chest. It’s a full-measure ill-considered stunt. If anything, at least in the case of Wikipedia, to go offline if even just for a moment undermines their mission and five pillars designed to provide knowledge and educate the world in a neutral way. Wednesday will come and pass. Just get your research done by Tuesday.
Further Reading (Link Dump):
If nothing else, read A technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP—Jason Harvey (Reddit)
The Industry That Cried Pirate: How Hollywood’s Hyperbole Backfired—Adrianne Jeffries (BetaBeat)
SOPA/PIPA: How Far We’ve Come; How Far We Need To Go—Mike Masnick
A Better Way to Combat Piracy: Accept That It’s Here to Stay and Adapt—Sarah Lacy (PandoDaily)
SOPA: the public debate—T.C. Sottek (The Verge)
Sopa 101—Olivia Solon (Wired.co.uk)
An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the U.S. Congress—Parker Higgens, Peter Eckersley (EFF.org)