For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

Summary: Yesterday's Stop Online Piracy Act protest by Wikipedia, Google and others demonstrated that the legislation could rock the very foundations of the web. It also made it very difficult for one ZDNet editor to do his job.

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Boy, yesterday was tough.

If you're a curious sort like me, the day of protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act (SOPA and PIPA, respectively, like the names of two little pugs) really cramped your style.

Wikipedia was among the bigger names (others: Google, Reddit, our friends at Wired and Ars Technica), to black out their pages in some fashion, blocking content to demonstrate to users of their websites how the legislation could directly impact them.

Despite that knowledge -- in spite of it -- I visited Wikipedia more than 20 times yesterday to look up information. On a staggering array of topics, too: the Venus' Flower Basket sea sponge, a reference I had to check for a forthcoming SmartPlanet feature; the Juliet balcony, a term used in a news article I read; to beef bourguignon, yesterday's lunch. I found my left hand constantly hovering over the Esc key on my keyboard to halt the Javascript-prompted protest overlay.

That's how crucial a tool that website is for the average person to get a basic understanding of terms and topics in the 21st century. Just as the Microsoft Bing "search overload" advertisements attest, we have readily adapted to looking up things we don't know, instead of speculating or leaving it to later discovery. The information onslaught has its social drawbacks, sure, but my God if we aren't more well-rounded because of it.

And that's just the thing: the Internet and World Wide Web, as we all know, have brought forth a tremendous amount of information. It's up to us, the user, to deal with it -- a major burden ripe for distraction, but a welcome one nonetheless. The power is ours to sort out what is relevant and what is not. We have the final say. However inefficient, it's a supremely democratic (small d!) system.

But when the black flags went up yesterday in protest (Wikipedia blocked almost all of its pages; Google put a prominent note on its homepage; Wired blacked out its headlines), it became clear that the democracy was under fire: the online battle over intellectual property was no longer fought on the fringe and in the shadows, one on one, but right in the center of it all, with lots of collateral damage. (Thankfully, this was only a test.)

I'm not going to discuss the merits and faults of the bills, the intentions versus the language; that much has been done (and done well) by my talented, legally-inclined peers in the publishing industry. What I will talk about is how the protest affected my job. And, like subway maintenance during rush hour, it did in a major way: it impacted my ability to verify facts written by my writers; it hindered my ability to understand information I read elsewhere; it affected my ability to offer ZDNet and SmartPlanet readers the same resource within our articles.

I finished out the workday feeling like my inability to link my original content -- which is protected under these bills, I'll remind you -- to other prominent sources that offer relevant, user-generated, original content or simplified aggregations of it actually reduced the overall value of my content.

My content stops communicating with the rest of the Internet. The informed dialogue within the news cycle slows, or ceases entirely.

And where would we be if the world didn't have any Ryan Gosling memes?

In all seriousness, though, I doubt lawmakers had esteemed publications like ZDNet or Ars in mind when they wrote these bills. But the reality is that both publications are simultaneously protected and targeted under the legislation. Think about it: almost every online publication worth its salt has a comments section. Writers, staff or contributors, aren't perfect. And there are plenty of domains (blogger.com, tumblr.com, flickr.com, youtube.com, et cetera) that are wholly built on unverified user-submitted content that we reference every day.

One court order, however frivolous, and whole ships go down.

The Internet has thrived because it allows an incredible volume of content to communicate with itself. There are, inevitably, going to be a few bad apples in the bunch. An overly broad scope could too easily make the whole bushel rotten.

So let's keep working to figure out technical solutions to this problem, instead of legislating them -- more "report as spam," less "kill switch" -- so I can keep writing, and you can keep commenting, and non-professionals can keep creating, without harboring an irrational fear that a well-meaning screen capture of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey is going to invite Warner Bros. to bring down the entire domain.

Topics: Piracy, Google, Legal, IT Employment

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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12 comments
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  • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

    What Google should have done for the protest was modify their search results so that any company that supported SOPA would no longer show up in results.
    mrlinux
  • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

    What did you do before Wikipedia existed; it wasn't that long ago?
    bb_apptix
    • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

      @bb_apptix We all did our jobs without Wikipedia and the internet at one time. Just because we survived then doesn't mean we should want to "step back" to that now. I would not want to ride a horse drawn buggy or walk to work every day either. The whole point here is that these bills represent exactly the opposite of progress.
      *Gman*
      • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

        @*Gman*
        [i]The whole point here is that these bills represent exactly the opposite of progress.[/i]
        You know that the opposite of Pro is Con, so what is the opposite of Progress? Makes you think. :)
        BrewmanNH
  • I'm glad you were inconvenienced by the protest

    Did you send an e-mail to both of your Senators and your Congress person telling them to oppose PIPA and SOPA?

    I did.

    Don't get me wrong. I beleive on-line piracy is wrong. But I also understand the flow of money with the members of MPAA and RIAA, as well as the factors that govern black markets. The fact is, the MPAA and RIAA members all charge exhorbitant prices for their goods, do an excrable job of distribution of their wares, and provide low quality product at those prices. In short, they are the driving force for the black market of on-line piracy. Only in this case the wires are the waterways, and people's PCs are the backwaters they unload at.
    Dr_Zinj
    • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

      @Dr_Zinj

      I did as well. My Representatives website worked fine, but one of my Senator's webpages was crawling, and the other looked flat out DDOSed.

      I don't think we were alone in telling our congressmen our opinion on it. :)
      SlithyTove
  • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

    The Internet is really all about giving "power to the people." And the rich and powerful who want to maintain their lock and hold on all of us don't like it a bit.
    sissy sue
    • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

      @sissy sue "the rich and powerful who want to maintain their lock and hold on all of us don't like it a bit".
      That sums it up completely. Content creators must bring their business models into the 21st century!
      arminw
  • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

    - our 3 favorite possible headlines for yesterday
    1) "Websites Use SOPA to Give Congress a Bath"
    2) "Webbies to the Monies: 'What, you thought computers <i>weren't</i> tools?'"
    3) "SOPA -- Who says America ... canna no longer ... make-a ... stuff-a?"
    zombiedisco101
  • I am a professional Photographer

    I feel that if I put a photo on the web, I am giving those who view it the right to use it.

    If the people who are pushing SOPA and PIPA are so warried about others stealing their work then they should not post it.

    I do feel that people who do not own the right to the ART (photos, Music, Drawings, paintings and such) that buy a copy from the store and rip it off, post it on the web and call it their own, should be punished to the full letter of the law.
    Startraderus
    andyofpb
  • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

    Not enough. This simply showed people what the Internet would be like when <br>the bill got through. It did nothing to discourage the 'big players' who are<br>behind this, pushing it through. And you can bet your life that no number of complaints from us 'small people' will make the politicians pushing this along, and their hidden partners, stop. <br><br>What needs to happen, is for people to BOYCOTT something like the premiere of <br>a major film... Show 'Hollywood' that it cannot do this, without a response which hits them where it hurts.. right in the bloody wallet, because thats <br>all they understand. As so many others have said, it's all about the money... <br>damn the Artists, damn their right to protect their work, it's plain and simple, about how much money the big company's can siphon off out of the process, and maintaining that profit. <br><br>The only thing that will get their attention, is a clear and present danger to the continued collection of that profit, such as the boycotting of films and music.

    Elihion.
    Elihion
    • RE: For this editor, SOPA web protest left an impression

      @Elihion <br>That is *exactly* what needs to be done. By *bribing* congress-critters and snake-ators to pass this legislation, MPAA, RIAA, et al have made it clear that this whole thing is about the money. But, it needs to be made perfectly clear to 'Hollywood' that this action is going to take place IN ADVANCE of the BOYCOTT. This does pose a risk to the movement in that if sales aren't significantly impacted then the movement has no teeth. <br><br>However if the BOYCOTT is successful, perhaps they'll rethink their approach to this problem. <br><br>Another action that would produce results is an organized and INTENSE email campaign directed at the supporters of this bill in "con"gress. They need to know that if they support this bill, they'll lose a SIGNIFICANT percentage of their constituents. But we need to make it clear to them that if this happens, NO AMOUNT OF MONEY WILL GET THEM BACK! <br><br>This will negate any benefits that might be gotten from the *bribes* from 'Hollywood' lobbyists. That's because they use these funds to attempt to *buy* votes via, primarily, advertising.<br><br>Finally, we'd need to make it perfectly clear that our support - in the form of votes - will go to candidates who SUPPORT INTERNET FREEDOM!<br><br>So our strategy MUST address legislators as well as 'Hollywood' in order to be effective. Though, I must admit that I find myself amused by the impact Anonymous' actions have had, as well.<br><br>X
      xitanyu