As Wikipedia Schedules Blackout, White House Comes Out Against SOPA-PIPA
January 17, 2012

As Wikipedia Schedules Blackout, White House Comes Out Against SOPA-PIPA

On Saturday, the Obama administration issued a formal statement in response to the highly controversial anti-piracy bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) that are scheduled for debate in the U.S. Congress next week. Although not quite tantamount to a veto threat, insiders say that this all but permanently derails both bills in their current form and many are interpreting the statement as a victory for advocates of a free Internet.

The statement read: said: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber-security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”

“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.”

The statement from the White House came in the wake of an announcement from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales that the English-language part of his website will ℠go dark´ on Wednesday in opposition to bills that he claims “would be devastating to the free and open web.” This makes the digital almanac-on-everything yet another voice in the growing chorus of protest against wildly unpopular legislation.

Wales also noted that Wikipedia would not revoke the Wednesday ℠blackout´ simply because the White House appears to be siding with advocates of an unhampered Internet, noting that the threat to web freedom has not simply disappeared.

“We don´t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active,” read a statement on Wikipedia´s website.

“Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we´re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms.”

According to supporters of the legislation–which originally included a bipartisan majority in Congress as well as a host of lobbyists from traditional media organizations like the film and television industry–SOPA and PIPA were intended to curb the online piracy of digital media by disrupting revenue flow to so-called “rogue websites.”

Opponents of the bill, however, have come forward in increasing numbers over the past weeks and months to register their dissent. From Silicon Valley moguls and market analysts to geeky online tech-communities and average Joe bloggers, citizens across the country have been denouncing the legislation as an infringement on free speech and a threat to the future of the Internet.

In a scathing piece published last Wednesday in the financial magazine Forbes, E.D. Kane summarily described SOPA and PIPA “the greatest threat to a free internet we´ve seen from the US government yet,” adding that the legislation represented a blatant attack on “the last unregulated bastion of free commerce in the world.”

In a recent interview with BBC reporters, Jimmy Wales commented on attempts by supporters of SOPA and PIPA to depict critics of the bills as accomplices to piracy.

“Proponents of SOPA have characterized the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy. But that´s not really the point,” said Wales.

“The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it´s going to impact all kinds of things that, you know, don´t have anything to do with stopping piracy.”

Wales´ critique is one that has been made by a number of critics who generally support anti-piracy legislation in principle.  Last week, New York Times columnist David Carr–himself a proponent of anti-piracy laws–commented that SOPA and PIPA, in their current forms would be ineffective in dealing with rogue websites and would entail significant “collateral damage” in terms of stifling innovation and attenuating free speech.

Wikipedia will be joining the social news site Reddit and the popular blog Boing Boing in going offline on Wednesday in protest of the legislation.

“If you want an Internet where human rights, free speech and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry's profits, I hope you'll join us,” said Boing Boing´s Cory Doctorow.

The world´s sixth most visited website, Wikipedia has stated that its English version will be shut down for a full 24 hours on Wednesday. The non-profit has also urged its users to flood Congress with phone calls, letters and emails in protest of SOPA and PIPA.

While the war for web freedom is far from over and various aspects of SOPA and PIPA are likely to be resurrected in a different forms, the mood in the blogosphere has been largely jubilant in response to the White House´s statement and the apparent DOA status of the bills.

A Sunday 15th posting on Daisy Luther´s popular blog Inalienably Yours was characteristic of the triumphant mood: “This is a victory for the voices of the people. It´s a victory for every person who wrote to his or her members of congress. It´s a victory for every person that shared blog posts and articles regarding the loss of freedom. It´s a victory for social media users whose hue and cry inundated the net.”


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