Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

Summary: If Wikipedia shut its doors temporarily in protest at upcoming U.S. anti-piracy legislation, how could it affect the web as we know it?

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Are you a student who relies on Wikipedia for research inspiration, or uses the contribution-based encyclopedia as a source for your coursework?

Enjoy using it while you can -- it may not be long before Wikipedia takes a break from the web.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked for user opinion on a potential Wikipedia blackout in protest of the proposed SOPA bill being debated in Congress. The SOPA bill would give U.S law enforcement powers to strip and take down websites that are seen to either contain copyrighted material, or facilitate copyright infringement.

(Source: ZDNet)

There are no immediate plans for Wikipedia to blackout. Wales is using a straw poll to gauge reaction and interest. It is currently not a vote on whether or not to have a strike.

The Italian parliament backed down on piracy law legislation when the Italian version of Wikipedia staged a protest and took all of its pages offline. Now, the English language version of Wikipedia may follow suit.

What are some of the arguments staged by Wikipedia users for and against a Wiki-Hiatus?

Reasons for a blackout

"What it will do is cripple free speech, Internet security and kill jobs in one of the few sectors of the U.S economy that is flourishing."

Many advocated cited free speech, security and economic growth in their arguments. Some even went so far to suggest collaborative efforts between web giants such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook.

A continual theme in those that advocate a Wikipedia blackout is the ability to promote public awareness of the SOPA bill. By taking down Wikipedia, apart from extending how many internet users become aware of the issue, it could be considered a demonstration of what the legislation could achieve in the future.

It could change the face of online networks as we currently know them.

There is concern over Wikipedia entering political territory. But with a bill that may threaten the encyclopedia's survival, Wikipedia does have the right to an opinion and to use its own platform to express it.

An interesting point made by an Australian supporter was the Free Trade Agreement between the U.S and Australia. They suggested that should the bill passes, it won't be long before Australian legislation will take on SOPA in some form.

Considering the links that the U.S government has across the globe, it isn't a likely prospect that only the Australian government will be ones to alter their legislation in reaction to SOPA.

Reasons against

"Until such a time as someone with proper legal training can explain, cogently, whether and to what extent this will affect Wikipedia in a material way, I oppose it."

A reason some users of Wikipedia are against the blackout is the concern of Wikipedia shifting from a politically neutral stand. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not a platform for political advocacy, and by voluntarily blocking access to the website it is not sticking to its ideals of remaining politically neutral.

This in turn could worry users and editors about contributing to a website that suddenly has a political agenda. With no current certainties on how Wikipedia would be affected by SOPA, it may be a case of 'jumping the gun' before solid research can be completed.

Another reason for rejecting this idea is simply the need that people have for Wikipedia. Some users worry that a blackout will affect their daily work.

It was proposed that Wikipedia, if they decide to take a political stance on a bill that could affect their future survival, should instead consider methods such as banners or campaigns on the site instead of complete removal.

Others suggested that the proposed 'block' should only be placed on Americans, and avoid affecting the access of international users. An opinion expressed suggested that 'legislation in one country is not enough reason to close the site internationally'.

However, SOPA is not legislation that will be confined within U.S borders.

How could SOPA affect Wikipedia?

Wikipedia, in the same way as other influential online brands like Facebook and Twitter, relies on user-generated content. It is therefore in the same danger bracket if SOPA legislation sinks its teeth in to the online encyclopedia.

The proposed laws are not clear-cut.

As one debater noted, Wikipedia is probably riddled with copyright violations. Unless Wikipedia was willing to spend an enormous budget -- for which it doesn't have -- regulating and checking every contribution, it probably wouldn't be able to survive in the online world of SOPA.

It seems to be an opinion in other countries than the U.S that the enforcement of this legislation wouldn't affect international sites. The U.S based company Verisign controls the .com, .net, and .org registries -- which in turn makes SOPA an immediate, global issue, and not one purely restricted to U.S websites.

If the SOPA bill is passed in America, it is likely that other governments will follow suit.

The discussion prompted by Wales' straw poll has prompted interesting debate. A Wikipedia blackout could be used to promote knowledge of the proposed legislation, and allow internet users in other countries to become more aware of how the bill would eventually affect them.

Because it will. SOPA is not a U.S website central issue -- it is a global concern.

However, the risk Wikipedia takes is moving from a politically-neutral platform.

If Wikipedia is willing to do this in order to protest legislation that may affect them, then perhaps using a blackout as a last resort may be a more sensible option. Or, on the other hand, staging a potential 'future Wikipedia scenario' now might contribute to changes in the legislation before it's too late.

If the SOPA bill does come in to play, Wikipedia may end up on more than a voluntary, short-term blackout.

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55 comments
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  • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

    OMG, college students won't be able to cheat on papers, edit wars on controversial topics will stop, and we won't be able to spend countless hours looking for useless trivia anymore! Whatever are we going to do?
    CobraA1
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @CobraA1

      And here I thought the purpose of the internet was to allow you to have whatever information you are looking for at your fingertips. Silly me for appreciating that.
      Michael Kelly
      • Foam

        @Michael Kelly
        Yeah, some days Cobra foams a bit much...
        rhonin
      • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

        @Michael Kelly ^what he said
        americanjoe
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      What might not be important to @CobraA1 might be important to somebody else.

      Self-absorbed, much? ;)
      ScorpioBlue
  • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

    "However, the risk Wikipedia takes is moving from a politically-neutral platform."

    They're politically neutral right now?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    No, it's politically for whoever happens to be the most persistant editor(s).
    CobraA1
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @CobraA1

      Or the most persistEnt spell checker ;-)
      tonymcs@...
  • It would be inconvenient...

    ...but hardly devastating.
    John L. Ries
  • SOPA will take it down anyway.

    All it will take is one well connected politician or big corporation who's offended by an article to file a bogus copyright complaint and Wikipedia will be gone.
    ancientprogrammer
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @ancientprogrammer
      Then it'll be up to the courts to decide whether it's a 1st Amendment issue or not. I'd welcome that if push came to shove.
      ScorpioBlue
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @ancientprogrammer I predict sopa would quickly be sued out of existance.
      tom@...
      • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

        @tom@... like people who file false DMCA takedown notices are routinely punished for perjury?
        More likely the common people will continue to be sued into smoking holes in the ground "pour encourager les autres" (and regardless of whether they're actually guilty), whilst the big four will continue to help themselves to anything that they can make as profit on.
        philculmer
      • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

        @tom@... class action time. everyone get in their fancy suits we are going to take all 120 million+ to the court house
        americanjoe
  • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

    [i]Another reason for rejecting this idea is simply the need that people have for Wikipedia. Some users worry that a blackout will affect their daily work.[/i]

    Erm, duh? That's exactly the reason a blackout would work.

    I say go for it. It'll be a bit inconvenient, but I can find sources elsewhere if I really need to. What it will do is be noticed. Unlike ZDNet and other tech type places, pretty much everybody on the internet goes to Wikipedia. If they take it down and place a page advocating against SOPA, it'll get things done.
    Aerowind
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @Aerowind: here's something I just thought of: Google and other search engines (if they agreed) could add flags for which sites are protesting against SOPA in the search results. It's easy to create a custom tag to add on the web sites that search engines would find.
      So when people search for things online, they'd see how all these sites like Wikipedia protest against it before they even go to the site. This would be the most effective if at least half of the search results pages has at least two results with the protest flag.
      Now this would not be very effective on it's own, but combined with banners on the sites and some sites going down temporarily to raise attention for the issue, it could work quite well.
      At least it would show people how many it is that is against the bill.
      Natanael_L
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @Aerowind

      <I>Another reason for rejecting this idea is simply the need that people have for Wikipedia. Some users worry that a blackout will affect their daily work.</I>

      I hope that isn't the only place people use for "work".

      In my course work I use Wiki only as a path to find actual cite-able sources.

      I can't imagine anyone citing Wiki as a source and thinking their veracity remains intact.

      SOPA, I'm not sure it's an answer. What I know is taking someone elses work and claiming credit for it has become so easy that people think there is nothing wrong with it.
      rmhesche
  • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

    "As one debater noted, Wikipedia is probably riddled with copyright violations. Unless Wikipedia was willing to spend an enormous budget ??? for which it doesn???t have ??? regulating and checking every contribution, it probably wouldn???t be able to survive in the online world of SOPA."

    Charlie, while you're cute, you don't understand the nature and purpose of the Wikimedia Foundation. They refuse to spend any money on editorial staff because that would call into question their protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But when you get right down to it, the problem of so many copyright violations is not financial, but ideological (i.e., the mantra of "Anyone can edit").

    Protesting this potential law is the easiest, cheapest way for the Wikimedia Foundation to protect its platform of libel, defamation, and copyright violation. They do not know how to act in a way that's challenging or costly, even if such a way would be the ethically correct way forward.
    thekohser
    • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

      @thekohser Or maybe you just misunderstood what she was saying. If SOPA is passed, Wikipedia is pretty much going under BECAUSE of what you quoted. Wikimedia, by it's very nature, is incompatible with SOPA.
      Aerowind
      • RE: Would a Wikipedia blackout be such a bad thing?

        @Aerowind I think the idea is that they're a common carrier - like the telephone company aren't responsible for what you discuss on the phone, and the Post Office aren't required to open all your post to make sure that it's legal (yet).<br>If they attempted to prevent copyright violations, etc, on a proactive basis, they would then be liable for any failure in this. SOPA will basically remove this common carrier prevention, along with the presumption of innocence that most civilised countries employ as part of their legal systems.<br>My money says that if this passes, independent music producers will start going bankrupt, as a result of bogus complaints originating from the big boys.
        philculmer
  • And who are the BIGGEST PIRATES of all?

    If not the federal government, pimping us at every turn. Pffft
    klumper