SOPA and PIPA - Learn more
What exactly is Wikipedia doing?
Wikipedia is protesting against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Readers who come to English Wikipedia during the blackout will not be able to read the encyclopedia: instead, they will see messages intended to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA, and encouraging them to share their views with their elected representatives, and via social media.
What are SOPA and PIPA?
SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect IP Act." ("IP" stands for "intellectual property.") In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found here and here. You can also follow them through the legislative process here and here. The EFF has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet.
Why is this happening?
Nothing like this has ever happened before on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people's access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.
Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won't be effective in their main goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.
Do you care about infringement?
Yes. Wikipedians spend thousands of hours every week working tirelessly in reviewing and removing infringing content. Wikipedia talk pages show tremendous care about protecting copyright and sophisticated study on the many nuances of what constitutes infringement as opposed to legitimate speech. Wikipedia is based on a model of free licenses. Every Wikipedian is a rights owner, licensing their work under free licenses. Infringement harms our mission; free licenses do not work with infringement. Wikipedia has a mission of sharing knowledge around the world, and that is not possible when the knowledge is tainted with infringement. So, yes, Wikipedians care deeply about protecting the rights of others and ensuring against infringement.
But this does not mean Wikipedians are willing to trample on free expression like SOPA and PIPA. The proposed legislation seeks to take down sites entirely, because courts and others simply don't have time to worry about the nuances of copyright law and free expression. That is what is troubling. When the remedies are bludgeons, when entire sites are taken down, when everyone assumes that all content is infringing because some is, we lose something important. We lose the nuances of copyright about which our community cares, we lose our values based on protecting free speech, we lose what we represent. The Internet cannot turn into a world where free expression is ignored to accomodate overly simple solutions that gratify powerful rightowners who spend lots of money to promote the regulation of expression. There are better ways, like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to find the right approach to legitimate copyright enforcement without trampling on free expression. SOPA and PIPA don't represent these values, and for that reason we ask you to oppose these bills.
Isn't SOPA dead? Wasn't the bill shelved, and didn't the White House declare that it won't sign anything that resembles the current bill?
No, neither SOPA nor PIPA are dead. On January 17th, SOPA's sponsor said the bill will be discussed in early February. There are signs PIPA may be debated on the Senate floor next week. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. We are already seeing big media calling us names. In many jurisdictions around the world, we're seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement laws, laws promoted by power players, over the preservation of individual civil liberties. We want the Internet to be free and open, everywhere, for everyone.
Aren’t SOPA/PIPA as they stand not even really a threat to Wikipedia? Won't the DNS provisions be removed?
SOPA and PIPA are still alive, and they’re still a threat to the free and open web, which means they are a threat to Wikipedia. For example, in its current form, SOPA would require U.S. sites to take on the heavy burden of actively policing third-party links for infringing content. And even with the DNS provisions removed, the bill would give the U.S. government extraordinary, ambiguous, and loosely-defined powers to take control over content and information on the free web. Taking one bad provision out doesn't make the bills okay, and regardless, Internet experts agree they won't even be effective in their main goal: halting copyright infringement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a really great post about some of the more dangerous SOPA and PIPA provisions.
What can users outside of the U.S. do to support this effort?
Readers who don't live in the United States can contact their local State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or similar branch of government. Tell them that you oppose the draft U.S. SOPA and PIPA legislation, and all similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will have a global effect - websites outside of the U.S. would be impacted by legislation that hurts the free and open web. And, other jurisdictions are grappling with similar issues, and may choose paths similar to SOPA and PIPA.
Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?
I keep hearing that this is a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Is that true?
No. Some people are characterizing it that way, probably in an effort to imply all the participants are motivated by commercial self-interest. But you can know it's not that simple, because Wikipedia has no financial self-interest here: we are not trying to monetize your eyeballs or sell you products. We are protesting to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA solely because we think they will hurt the Internet, and your ability to access information. We are doing this for you.
In carrying out this protest, is Wikipedia abandoning neutrality?
We hope you continue to trust Wikipedia to be a neutral informational resource. We are staging this blackout because, although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence actually is not. For over a decade, Wikipedians have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Wikipedia's existence depends on a free, open and uncensored Internet. We are shutting Wikipedia down for you, our readers. We support your right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe people should be able to share information without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA (and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States) don’t advance the interests of the general public. That's why we're doing this.
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