While the position of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales concerning SOPA is now well known, his “Put SOPA on Blast” essay essentially spoke for himself, although, one would be inclined to believe Wales shares the thoughts of his co-workers. Now, however, thanks to an extended post over at the Wikimedia blog, there can be no mistaking as to where Wikipedia as a whole stands in relation to SOPA.
The post in questions, titled, “How SOPA will hurt the free web and Wikipedia” goes way beyond the reactive, blanking of Wikipedia measures discussed by Wales. Like a good law firm, the media arm of Wikipedia laid down their position in detailed fashion, explaining why the idea of SOPA goes against the open principles on which the Internet was founded. An example:
We cannot battle, however, one wrong while inflicting another. SOPA represents the flawed proposition that censorship is an acceptable tool to protect rights owners’ private interests in particular media. That is, SOPA would block entire foreign websites in the United States as a response to remove from sight select infringing material. This is so even when other programs like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have found better balances without the use of such a bludgeon. For this reason, we applaud the excellent work of a number of like-minded organizations that are leading the charge against this legislation…
It continues on for some length, comprehensively laying out their ideas opposing SOPA. There’s also a section that deals with the legal ramifications of such a bill passing, and these, too, are addressed in the post. In fact, Lamar Smith’s amendments are also addressed, showing just how up to date Wikimedia’s reaction is.
I’ve been asked for a legal opinion. And, I will tell you, in my view, the new version of SOPA remains a serious threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.
- The new version continues to undermine the DMCA and federal jurisprudence that have promoted the Internet as well as cooperation between copyright holders and service providers. In doing so, SOPA creates a regime where the first step is federal litigation to block an entire site wholesale: it is a far cry from a less costly legal notice under the DMCA protocol to selectively take down specified infringing material. The crime is the link, not the copyright violation. The cost is litigation, not a simple notice.
- The expenses of such litigation could well force non-profit or low-budget sites, such as those in our free knowledge movement, to simply give up on contesting orders to remove their links. (Secs. 102(c)(3); 103(c)(2)) The international sites under attack may not have the resources to challenge extra-territorial judicial proceedings in the United States, even if the charges are false.
The new version of SOPA reflects a regime where rights owners may seek to terminate advertising and payment services, such as PayPal, for an alleged “Internet site dedicated to theft of U.S. property.” (Sec. 103(c)(2)) A rights owner must seek a court order (unlike the previous version) (Sec. 103(b)(5)). Most rights owners are well intentioned, but many are not. We cannot assume that litigious actions to block small sites abroad will always be motivated in good faith, especially when the ability to defend is difficult.
Read more at Wikimedia’s post. As for the inclusion of Smith’s amendments, the feeling is, while an improvement, they don’t adequately fix what SOPA potentially breaks:
In short, though there have been some improvements with the new version, SOPA remains far from acceptable. Its definitions remain too loose, and its structural approach is flawed to the core. It hurts the Internet, taking a wholesale approach to block entire international sites, and this is most troubling for sites in the open knowledge movement who probably have the least ability to defend themselves overseas.
Aside from the Protect Innovation consortium, there aren’t many publications that so thoroughly discuss the implications of SOPA with such a level head. Not only is the discussion an important one, there’s also emotion involved. Thankfully, the Wikimedia post purposely eschews emotion for a factual, level-headed approach.