A number of websites are going dark tomorrow to protest the SOPA legislation that could impose harsh restrictions upon the Internet. These sites include Mozilla, reddit for 12 hours, and Wikipedia for a full 24 hours. Google will also place a SOPA-related link on its homepage. Wales explained that the Wikipedia blackout comes as a result of feedback from the Wikipedia community,
Not everybody is sanguine about the blackout. On just-launched Silicon Valley news site Pando Daily, Paul Carr writes in agreement with Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s tweet calling the decision “foolish”. Carr blasts Wales for “[making] a mockery” of Wikipedia’s fundraising appeals to keep the service up and running, and also points out that this conflicts with Wikipedia’s insistence on neutrality in its articles.
The trouble with taking a political stance on one issue is that your silence on every issue becomes a stance. Human rights abuses in Libya? Not as important as SOPA. Roe v Wade? Not as important as SOPA. Everything else that’s happened in the world until now, and everything that will ever happen from this day forward? Not as important as SOPA.
Wales defended the decision to UK paper The Telegraph, explaining that the Wikipedia blackout went world-wide instead of US-only as a result of a vote among members of the Wikipedia community and that the protest is international because the US law has the potential to affect the Internet of the entire world by giving the Department of Justice the ability to seek court orders against websites outside US jurisdiction. He hopes that those who live outside the US but have friends or family who are US voters will ask them to complain to lawmakers on their behalf.
Blackout or not, it seems that the groundswell of opposition to SOPA is making itself felt. Bill opponent Darrell Issa has said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has told him that SOPA is effectively stalled until a “consensus” can be reached. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor, Lamar Smith, has announced he will be removing one of SOPA’s most controversial provisions, which would have allowed the aforementioned court orders against non-US websites.
And after being prodded by Internet petitions, President Obama issued a statement saying the administration would not support the online censorship that SOPA opponents feel the bill threatens, while apparently challenging those opponents to come up with their own solution that will meet the goals of fighting foreign piracy while not messing with Internet infrastructure or safe harbor provisions.
And even the head of the MPAA has been forced to admit that “DNS filtering is really off the table”—at least for now.
Still, this is not a time to let our guard down. And while I’ll be annoyed at losing access to Wikipedia for a day, given that it’s one of my few diversions at work, if the blackout helps hammer home the nails in SOPA’s coffin I will wholeheartedly support it.
For those who want to make a point on their own websites about SOPA censorship, CloudFlare has an app that lets people “self-censor” their websites in protest.