Imagine a future where we look back to 1995-2015 as the heyday of the free Web, a kind of wild west era before the clampdown. I never would have imagined it, back in the heady 1990s when the Web exploded with wild idealism. The Atlantic marveled today that Wikipedia, a site founded on the 'neutral point of view' (NPOV) took sides very clearly on protests against proposed American legislation that will censor copyright infringements online. Wiki was never a democracy, but today, it entered into what the Atlantic writer Megan Garber calls "pseudo-democratic digital collaboration." The train of thought that brought Wiki to this extraordinary decision ran as follows, according to Jay Walsh:
Times are changing. Today's protest could hint at future ways of organizing (and even governing) societies through altered administration of communication. Alternatively, today's anti-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and anti-PIPA (Protect IP Act) protests made me think of a future where large parts of the Internet are available only by specialized subscription, or not available at all. In MSM shorthand, this is a conflict between Hollywood and the Silicon Valley.I thought about NPOV, but realized that NPOV won't matter if Wikipedia becomes too much of a liability to exist anyway. The way the bill is formulated reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet works. The repercussions are global. ... The point of the temporary inconvenience is to raise awareness and therefore political participation. Without the blackout there will be no story, so no awareness. Political participation outside the US will be ineffective, so there is no point in creating the inconvenience for them. ... You can't be neutral when your very fabric of being is under threat of erasure.
Image Source: Gizmodo.
Extreme Tech comments on the US laws on the verge of being passed:
Extreme Tech claims SOPA has just been shelved. I09 was curiously reticent, but Gawker, Gizmodo and Lifehacker had articles on the blackouts and the proposed pieces of legislation that inspired them. Gizmodo blames the tech community for not lobbying the government the way Hollywood has.The Senate judiciary committee unanimously passed its version of the so-called PROTECT IP act (full text of the PROTECT IP Act), which is currently being held up by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. The House has, in the meantime, charged ahead with an even more aggressive version it has titled the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act, or E-PARASITES in short (full text of the E-PARASITES Act). The House version requires service providers to actively block — a polite word for censor — sites which are deemed to be infringing. Mike Masnick of TechDirt was quick to point out that this would in effect create a Great Firewall of America.
Then there are the subtle comments on what the free Web has done to society. The responses to the blackouts from high school students appear to show that the Internet has made a good portion of them incredibly passive, complacent and unimaginative when it comes to finding information (here and here). These reports would have you believe that a free Web made people weak, not free.
The other subtext is that this protest has drawn the battle lines between the hypothetical police state of protected copyright and the anarchy of free data sharing. Don't forget the conspiracy theorists. I hope there's a third (or fourth?) way. Surely it is evident that the new technology demands new ways of conceiving of, and managing, copyright and intellectual property rights. More screenshots of protests below.
Addendum (January 19, 2012): Today, the hacker group Anonymous retaliated against the US federal shut down of the file sharing site, MegaUpload, by temporarily taking down several major Websites (Twitter posts from what is assumed to be an Anonymous affiliate are here). Meanwhile, MegaUpload rapidly reappeared elsewhere on the Web. Anonymous declared January 19: "1%, YOU HAVE LOST CONTROL OF THE SITUATION." The following sites went down to DDoS attacks:
- U.S. Department of Justice
- U.S. Copyright Office
- Recording Industry Association of America
- Motion Picture Association of America
- Universal Music Group
- The FBI
- BMI Music
Boing Boing protest.