Today is the day that a number of sites across the web are going ´on strike´ in protest at the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) legislation currently being considered by the United States’ Congress.
The difficulty with the above statement is that the name of the Act makes protesting it sound like something only the pirates and those supporting them would do. In fact, any number of sites and businesses with outstanding track records against online piracy are firmly against this legislation on the basis that it’s draconian, over-reaching and counter-productive.
Wikipedia’s participation in this action will probably have the most impact in creating visibility for the protest, and indeed for the issues raised by SOPA’s consideration. With the best will in the world, the audiences of many of the sites participating (the Reddits of this world) are probably fairly well informed about what a post-SOPA world would look like already. The 25 million visitors who will try to access information on Wikipedia today will be told clearly that the site they trust for information considers the legislation a threat to the “free and open Internet” as well as an assault on free speech.
It’s interesting to note that the head of an organisation which is itself no stranger to ethically dubious business practices, one Rupert Murdoch, has become one of the more visible defenders of SOPA and attackers of the pirates. His Twitter rant at the weekend hardly advanced his cause; given that it seemed most clearly to illustrate that he doesn’t actually understand how the Internet works, by holding Google responsible for the sites it indexes. Of course, his business empire’s entertainment arms stand to lose greatly from piracy, but the cynics among us can’t help but think it’s his control of the news which is a bigger concern, given SOPA’s potential impact on aggregator sites and blogs which extract news content to provide commentary. “Fair use” is certainly one of the concepts under threat here.
I’ll be watching with interest those sites I use that have gone dark today, and who is talking about the protest via the #BlackoutSOPA hashtag. As Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales notes – SOPA may be American legislation, but its potential impact is global, so we all need to be aware of it.