Wikipedia Considering Blackout to Oppose SOPA

    December 13, 2011

While some members of the entertainment industry believe that without the help of SOPA, the future of content distribution is in doubt, other members of the tech industry have a different perspective. In fact, a number of tech giants are taking the exact opposite approach of their entertainment industry counterparts. That is, while they don’t support the idea of piracy, they do not approve of how SOPA goes about policing the web’s content.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is considering a site-wide “blank out” of Wikipedia’s pages. Is this approach too extreme or is Wales correct in his anti-SOPA stance. Thoughts? Reactions? Share them in the comments.

Consider NBC Universal’s approach, one that includes an edict of support SOPA or we’ll have serious issues distributing content from those who don’t. That’s right, NBC threatened their content suppliers with a “support SOPA or else” threat, representing a position that’s similar to blackmail. Apparently that’s business as usual in the corporate world, but there is hope. As indicated, not every tech industry giant is falling in step with SOPA/PIPA, including such big names like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo, companies that are diametrically opposed to how SOPA works.

Now, you can add Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to the anti-SOPA pile. Wales and Wikipedia are so against the ideas set forth by SOPA — mainly, the censorship aspect — they are considering blacking Wikipedia out as a method of protest; and when I say “blacking out,” I mean turning all of the Wikipedia pages blank, as in, no content, in an effort to show just how how much Wikipedia opposes the idea of censorship.

To facilitate his idea, Wales posted a suggestion on his User Talk Wikipedia page, and it, in no uncertain terms, lays out Wales’ position. His statement is below in blockquote form, and he invites other Wikipedia members and users to respond to his makeshift poll:

A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of “Stop Online Piracy Act’ is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track.

I may be attending a meeting at the White House on Monday (pending confirmation on a couple of fronts) along with executives from many other top Internet firms, and I thought this would be a good time to take a quick reading of the community feeling on this issue. My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case.

There are obviously many questions about whether the strike should be geotargetted (US-only), etc. (One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government.) At the same time, it’s of course a very very big deal to do something like this, it is unprecedented for English Wikipedia.

Preceding unsigned comment added by Jimbo Wales… 07:42, 10 December 2011‎

While a great deal of the responses are of the “Support” or “Firmly Support,” there are a number who of users who are opposed to the way Wikipedia is planning on protesting SOPA; although, many who opposed Wales’ postion did so because they don’t want Wikipedia getting involved in political issues.

An example:

Oppose, really bad idea. Blanking the site for a political purpose, even one that helps Wiki, is using power over content for advocacy. It’s in the same class as deleting an article that might help a candidate or cause some subset of us don’t like. Yes, not as egrigious…but in the same class. (And there will be some subset of Wikipedians that support SOPA. Heck, I hear they even let Republicans edit this site, occasionally.)

Regarding the blanking of Wikipedia pages, some on Twitter are thinking of the all the students out there who will suffer without it:

Students sobbing? MT @boraz: RT @jayrosen_nyu: What do you think? Wikipedia to blank pges to protest SOPA 38 minutes ago via HootSuite · powered by @socialditto

You’ll also find those who agree with Wales’ approach:

Not a huge fan of Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia, but Im glad he is taking a stance on government internet regulation 1 hour ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Here’s an interesting query about SOPA, courtesy of Google’s Matt Cutts: Does it violate the First Amendment? According to a Harvard law professor, yes. Yes it does:

Some dude says SOPA violates First Amendment: P.S. He’s a professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard. 11 hours ago via Tweet Button · powered by @socialditto

The link in Cutts’ tweet goes to a 23-page document that discusses the concept. An example of the document’s position:

These concessions go to the heart of the constitutional defect evident on the face of SOPA. Although the problems of online copyright and trademark infringement are genuine,SOPA is an extreme measure that is not narrowly tailored to governmental interests. It is a blunderbuss rather than a properly limited response, and its stiff penalties would significantly endanger legitimate websites and services. Its constitutional defects are not marginal ones that could readily be trimmed in the process of applying and enforcing it in particular cases. Rather,its very existence would dramatically chill protected speech by undermining the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. It should not be enacted by Congress.

With that in mind, should Wikipedia blank its pages in protest of SOPA or should they just let the chips fall where they may? Is fighting censorship with censorship really the way to go? Is that too extreme of an approach from Wikipedia or are more protests like this needed?

If Wales’ approach isn’t ideal, what, if anything, should the Wikipedia protest consist of? Let us know what you think in the comments.