What Exactly is Wikipedia Doing?

Wikipedia is protesting against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Readers who come to English Wikipedia during the blackout will not be able to read the encyclopedia: instead, they will see messages intended to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA, and encouraging them to share their views with their elected representatives, and via social media.

Why is this happening?

Nothing like this has ever happened before on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective in their main goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.

Isn’t SOPA dead? Wasn’t the bill shelved, and didn’t the White House declare that it won’t sign anything that resembles the current bill?

No, neither SOPA nor PIPA are dead. On January 17th, SOPA’s sponsor said the bill will be discussed in early February. There are signs PIPA may be debated on the Senate floor next week. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. In many jurisdictions around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation that prioritizes overly-broad copyright enforcement over the preservation of individual civil liberties. We want the Internet to be free and open, everywhere, for everyone.

Aren’t SOPA/PIPA as they stand not even really a threat to Wikipedia? Won’t the DNS provisions be removed?

SOPA and PIPA are still alive, and they’re still a threat to the free and open web, which means they are a threat to Wikipedia. For example, in its current form, SOPA would require U.S. sites to take on the heavy burden of actively policing third-party links for infringing content. And even with the DNS provisions removed, the bill would give the U.S. government extraordinary and loosely-defined powers to take control over content and information on the free web. Taking one bad provision out doesn’t make the bills okay, and regardless, Internet experts agree they won’t even be effective in their main goal: halting copyright infringement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a really great post about some of the more dangerous SOPA and PIPA provisions.

What can users outside of the U.S. do to support this effort?

Readers who don’t live in the United States can contact their local State Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or similar branch of government. Tell them that you oppose the draft U.S. SOPA and PIPA legislation, and all similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will have a global effect – websites outside of the U.S. would be impacted by legislation that hurts the free and open web. And, other jurisdictions are grappling with similar issues, and may choose paths similar to SOPA and PIPA.

Is it still possible to access Wikipedia in any way?

The Wikipedia community, as part of their request to the Wikimedia Foundation to carry out this protest, asked us to ensure that we make English Wikipedia accessible in some way during an emergency. The English Wikipedia will be accessible on mobile devices and smart phones. Because the protest message is powered by JavaScript, it’s also possible to view Wikipedia by completely disabling JavaScript in your browser.

I keep hearing that this is a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Is that true?

No. Some people are characterizing it that way, probably in an effort to imply all the participants are motivated by commercial self-interest. But you can know it’s not that simple, because Wikipedia has no financial self-interest here: we are not trying to monetize your eyeballs or sell your products. We are protesting to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA solely because we think they will hurt the internet, and your ability to access information. We are doing this for you.

In carrying out this protest, is Wikipedia abandoning neutrality?

We hope you continue to trust Wikipedia to be a neutral informational resource. We are staging this blackout because, although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence actually is not. For over a decade, Wikipedians have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Wikipedia’s existence depends on a free, open and uncensored Internet. We are shutting Wikipedia down for you, our readers. We support your right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe people should be able to share information without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA (and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States) don’t advance the interests of the general public. That’s why we’re doing this.

 

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