Courtesy of the respective websites
A stark, black W casts a shadow across the English Wikipedia website. “Imagine a world without free knowledge,” the page reads.
Wikipedia, Reddit, Rock Paper Shotgun, Craigslist and hundreds of other sites shut down Wednesday in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take,” said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, in a press release. “And while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”
The legislation, that many Ohio lawmakers have concerns about, would allow content holders and the Department of Justice to require websites, search engines and ad agencies to blacklist websites associated with piracy or linking to pirated content. This includes links and content made by users.
According to AmericanCensorship.org, “A few infringing links are enough to block a site full of legal material, and sites become liable for user-posted content” under SOPA/PIPA.
Many other websites, including Google.com and Wired.com, blacked out their content or logos in solidarity. These sites include links to pages with more information on the legislation, along with forms to contact senators and representatives.
David Howcroft, a graduate student in linguistics and member of Ohio for Internet Freedom, described the bill as “anti-competitive” and said it has “a chilling effect on web entrepreneurship in general.”
Putting such limitations on content, and pressure for websites to police that content, creates a turbulent climate for new companies, Howcroft said.
“It really discourages innovation online,” said Logan Frederick, a fourth-year in computer science and economics.
Because the language of the bill is so vague, Frederick said it can be interpreted in any way the government or corporations want.
The fear is that this censorship will provide yet another barrier to entry for new websites and internet companies. The legislation does not delete pirated content, but instead forces U.S. sites and search engines to omit links to “rogue websites” containing pirated material.
“Any site that has comments, a forum, video streaming, user content in any form, is in real danger of being destroyed by SOPA and PIPA,” read the front page of “Rock, Paper, Shotgun,” a popular video game blog. “YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter … The Internet, as this wonderful, extraordinary, free and beautiful thing, would be broken forever.”
Under SOPA and PIPA, websites are fully responsible for community content. A few links to infringing YouTube videos in your website’s comment section could be enough for legal attention, critics worry.
Their goal is to protect content holders, but the bills aren’t beneficial to artists, said Andy Anderson, a fourth-year in theater.
“One of the biggest struggles anyone in my field deals with is getting their name and their product out there to be seen and recognized by others,” Anderson said in an email. “Do you think Justin Bieber or Bo Burnham would have gotten so big without YouTube?”
The Wikipedia blackout started at midnight Wednesday and continued for 24 hours. Other websites, such as Reddit and Mozilla, began their protests at 8 a.m. and lasted for 12 hours, the time when websites feature their heaviest traffic.
“Here’s an example of corporations standing by the people in an age where there’s a view that government legislation is more based on supporting corporations than the people,” Howcroft said. He said the blackouts will hopefully raise awareness and get people more politically involved.
There’s a clear line between companies supporting the bill and those that will be negatively affected by it, Frederick said. “It’s like the World War III of Internet legislation.”
Making it clear what side it rests on, Google’s anti-SOPA and PIPA page read “End Piracy, Not Liberty.”
The page continued: “Members of Congress are trying to do the right thing by going after pirates and counterfeiters but SOPA and PIPA are the wrong way to do it.”
In an email to The Lantern, Rep. Steve Stivers voices concerns about the legislation.
“The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has not yet been up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Stivers wrote. “However, I have concerns about the legislation and I do not support SOPA in its current form; it could infringe on first amendment rights.”
Howcroft agreed with actions by companies and encouraged people to contact their elected officials.
“I think at this point the best thing to do is reach out to your senators and representatives,” Howcroft said. “Give them the feedback that they need to represent us.”
In an email to The Lantern, Lauren Kulik, press secretary for Sen. Sherrod Brown, said he opposed the bill in its current form.
“Sen. Brown believes that we must find a middle ground that combats online piracy while protecting innovation and free speech,” Kulik said. “He wants to be sure the legislation is targeted at foreign rogue sites that sell knock-off pharmaceuticals, scam consumers and cost U.S. jobs rather than sites that drive American innovation.”
Students agreed that a compromise is necessary.
“We need to find a compromise or else SOPA will keep being pushed,” Frederick said.
The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was blocked by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden in 2010. It was rewritten as PIPA, which faces a cloture vote on Jan 24. This vote will decide if the bill continues through the Senate.
“We have to stop SOPA just so Wikipedia can help people cheat on homework assignments again,” Frederick said.