Don’t expect to be able to get any last minute research done on Wednesday – Wikipedia will be offline for 24 hours, joining Reddit, Boing Boing and several other websites and major blogs in protest of the Stop Online Privacy Act, (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
In theory, these bills sound like they’re on the right track. The House bill SOPA wants to do exactly what its name says – stop piracy – meaning prevent music and video theft that’s harming the entertainment industry. If the bill goes through, we will also lose the ability to share anything else via the Internet. Images, text and anything else linked online can be deemed as copyright infringing by the government and taken down. The Internet will be turned into a police force, monitoring its users and taking them down when they get even slightly out of line. Its censorship, and goes against everything the Web was created for.
Thankfully, Obama has opposed legislation for SOPA and it has been shelved – but PIPA is still on the table. It is essentially the same bill up for vote in the Senate, and will give media and other companies the ability to accuse “rogue websites” of copyright infringement and have them taken down. But this privilege can be abused, and any site could be at risk because of it.
Take a moment to imagine what will happen to your daily life if these bills pass. You’d wake up in the morning, make your coffee and proceed to get online to read the news and catch up on Facebook. That’s simple enough, no harm done there. But your news feed is devoid of much of anything interesting, because the sharing of information has been cut. You click over to Twitter, but it’s the same problem. Feeds run slowly when there isn’t anything to share.
Next, it’s time to write that paper that’s due tomorrow. You decide to start at Wikipedia and move out from there with your research, only to find that Wikipedia is gone. There’s no place for an open-source encyclopedia in this new Internet. Confused, you check other sites you frequent. Reddit is gone. Tumblr is gone. That cooking blog you like so much is gone. The Internet is no longer what it was made for.
The Motion Picture Association of America has a good reason to be concerned about piracy. Millions of people work in the entertainment industry and are losing money because of illegal music and video sharing. This bill isn’t the way to fight it, though. It impedes free speech on the Internet, and really, what’s left of it after that is taken away? So, be ready for Wednesday’s internet blackout, because that’s exactly what the Web is going to be like if SOPA and PIPA pass.