Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia will blackout tomorrow

SAN DIEGO. On 18 January 2012, Wikipedia will blackout the English language version of itself to protest the  Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). If SOPA and PIPA become law, they would make it easier for copyright holders to protect their rights online against pirating, by simplifying the procedures to get court orders against offending websites. Sites that rely heavily on volunteer submissions and information sharing (Wikipedia, Facebook) will face a burden of policing the content in order to avoid penalties, some of which are criminal.

SOPA and PIPA would help American movie and music producers who are losing billions of dollars each year due to foreign-based pirate websites. SOPA and PIPA would mandate that Internet companies, search engines, cut off access and linking to those foreign pirate websites. It would also become illegal for U.S. companies to place ads on such websites.

Protesters such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, Twitter, AOL, eBay, PayPal and Wordpress oppose the bills on First Amendment grounds, claiming that such regulation would amount to impermissible censorship that would take a significant chunk out of Internet content. However, First Amendment mostly protects your own free speech, and even without SOPA and PIPA, the current copyright law has exceptions for the “fair use” of others’ content for educational, newsworthy or otherwise worthy purposes, not republishing large portions of it for profit. Harsh penalties, such as shutting websites down are reserved for heavy violations of SOPA and PIPA.

Therefore, Wikipedia, as a non-profit organization that uses copyrighted materials for educational purposes, would face lighter scrutiny
under SOPA and PIPA. A lot of what's posted there will fit under the educational "fair use" exception to copyright law. Nevertheless, the new laws would undoubtedly chill its activity and put a burden on volunteers to ensure that proper procedures to avoid copyright infringements are in place.

Facebook has always had such a sub-par privacy violation record that it might not be a bad thing if SOPA/PIPA force it to clean up its act in a closely related area. As a matter of fact, Facebook may owe you $750 already. The new laws would not require hiring staff members to police and preapprove each post, only that proper procedures to avoid copyright infringement are in place.

Yahoo! and other search engines are in business of making a profit from linking and advertising others' intellectual property (sometimes counterfeit goods). It seems reasonable, thus, to force the search engines to either avoid such freeloading or to reinvest some of their profit to make sure the rightful owners get a fairer share of it.

The bills have support from members of California's congressional delegation. Eight U.S. Representatives from California (Berman, Mack, Gallegly, Schiff, Baca, Bass, Chu, Sherman) have co-sponsored SOPA, which is a House Bill. Both U.S. Senators from California (Boxer and Feinstein) have co-sponsored PIPA, which is a Senate Bill. The White House has objected to some of the major SOPA principles on the grounds that it would reduce freedom of expression, increase cybersecurity risk and undermine the dynamic, innovative Internet.