SOPA Blackout Day: What Others Are Doing & What You Can Do Too

Posted by · January 18, 2012 1:04 pm
SOPA Resistance Day!

Image by ~C4Chaos via Flickr

Today’s the day. At the stroke of midnight, Wikipedia replaced its iconic homepage with a concise yet thought-provoking message. In a message entitled “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge,” the popular global encyclopedia released the following statement as it declared its unequivocal opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA):

For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.

The message is followed by a link that encourages site visitors to learn more about the controversial legislation and then voice their opposition to both bills through their respective social media accounts.

On Tuesday night, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was a guest on CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront. During the interview, Wales explained his opposition to the new anti-piracy legislation by expressing his support for the copyright protection laws that are already in place.

“I’m a big believer that we should be dealing with the issues of privacy, and we should deal with them in a serious way,” he argued, “but this bill is not the right bill.”

When Burnett pressed Wales on sites such as “Pirate Bay,” which illegally hosts popular television shows, the Wikipedia founder clarified his position by confirming that he thinks that particular site “is a problem.”

Nevertheless, Wales warned that the proper way to address these kinds of unapologetic infringers is not to force sites like Google, Wikipedia, or Reddit to stop listing it or talking about it. “The right answer is to follow the money. If you’ve got large-scale piracy going on, it’s the same as any other trade dispute.”

Joining Wikipedia in the day of darkness is Reddit, which was actually the first major site to announce that it would be blacking out in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Speaking with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Wednesday morning, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian also had a chance to explain the site’s position on both bills.

“Both SOPA and PIPA are threats not just to the U.S. economy and not just all the jobs that this tech sector creates. If they had existed, Steve Huffman and I could have never started Reddit,” Ohanian began. “It’s frustrating to see legislation that was written by lobbyists and not technologists perhaps become law.”

Responding to accusations that blackout protests by Reddit, Wikipedia and others are a “gimmick”, Obrien encouraged other morning shows to actually “talk about it”.

“Reddit could be part of the conversation and Google could be a part of the conversation—because it sounds to me like all sides think piracy is a bad thing. There’s no one arguing piracy is a good thing,” she added.

Agreeing with Obrien’s statement, the Reddit co-founder added his frustration with the process by which SOPA and PIPA were written:

If you look—last year, $94 million was spent lobbying to get this bill—to get these bills made. It’s just so frustrating because we look at Congress and we can’t see them do anything that’s important. They can’t solve the problems of unemployment; they can’t solve the problems of the deficit. Yet as soon as a lobbyist shows up with $94 million, Democrats and Republicans line up to co-sponsor it. Something is wrong.

Other sites taking part in similar protests against SOPA and PIPA are Google and Mozilla. The search giant blacked out the Google logo on its homepage and provided a link below its search function for more information about the legislation. Mozilla, on the other hand, dedicated its entire homepage to declare its disdain for both bills; however, those visiting the site to download Firefox are still able to do so.

More than a hundred other sites have also been confirmed to have taken some sort of action against SOPA and PIPA, including popular sites like Tumblr, Vimeo and Flickr. The SOPA Strike website has compiled a comprehensive list of sites that have protested in one way or another.

While the widespread opposition to both bills by so many sites is undoubtedly encouraging, many are left wondering what they can do to make their voices heard. And the answer is that, even without being the owner of a major website, people can do a lot.

First and foremost, reading up on both bills and understanding the inherent dangers that the bills as currently written pose to Internet freedom is imperative. If you have the time, read SOPA and PIPA for yourself, or at least read the summaries of each bill, both of which are still accessible on Wikipedia, here and here.

Once you’re sufficiently informed about both bills, make your voice heard by urging public officials not to pass them. This can be done both by contacting your respective Representatives, Senators, and even the President, as well as by signing the smattering of anti-censorship petitions that are currently circulating the Web. One such petition can be found on the CREDO Action website. If you’re not sure who to contact, you can determine who your Representatives and Senators are by using the location tools on the House of Representatives website and the Senate website.

When you contact government officials, you can also express support for the legislation that’s been offered up as an alternative to SOPA and PIPA by Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Darrell Issa. Entitled the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN Act, this alternative legislation enables the opposition to make it clear that although they don’t approve of SOPA and PIPA, they do care about establishing an adequate means of safeguarding against Internet piracy…just without the potential censorship that the vague and sweeping language of the other bills threaten to effect.

Finally, no matter who you are, chances are you’re a regular patron of at least one, if not several of the supporters of SOPA. Since the House Judiciary Committee maintains a full list of those sponsors, check that list and express your displeasure with the current stance that they’re taking. Whether that’s by patronizing companies who don’t support these bills or by contacting companies directly to show your disapproval, let them know that you share their concerns about Internet piracy but that there’s a better, safer way to go about addressing them.

After all, the best way to diffuse such an intense conflict is to work collaboratively to pursue a more mutually satisfying consensus. By offering a constructive alternative instead of simply attacking the massive power grab embodied in SOPA and PIPA, we can maximize the effectiveness of this week’s protest efforts. And as a result, both those interested in greater protection of their copyrighted content and those alarmed by anything that remotely reeks of Internet censorship will see their concerns addressed.

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  • Michelle

    Get involved!