Wikipedia Blackout Brings SOPA/PIPA to Forefront for Business

They are calling it the day the Web goes on strike. The planned Jan. 18 blackout of the English version of Wikipedia (along with reddit and Boing Boing) has brought to a head the showdown between various industries and business groups in support of and opposed to the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. Depending on what they stand to gain or lose if this legislation goes into effect, the battle lines have been drawn, creating some strange bedfellows.

For its part, Wikipedia contends that, if passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States and, as a result, will blackout its results tomorrow for 24 hours.

The proposed SOPA legislation is aimed at preventing online piracy of films and other forms of media hosted on foreign servers.

[Understanding SOPA]

"The U.S. government and rights holders would have the right to seek court orders against any site accused of 'enabling or facilitating' piracy. This could theoretically involve an entire website being shut down because it contains a link to a suspect site," the BBC said.

Perhaps more disconcerting to many U.S.-based businesses is that U.S.-based Internet service providers, payment processors and advertisers would be outlawed from doing business with alleged copyright infringers. SOPA also calls for search engines to remove infringing sites from their results – PIPA does not include this provision, the BBC said.

Wikipedia said it had an unprecedented level of involvement from Wikipedia users who decided to stage the blackout.

[How to access Wikipedia during the blackout]

"Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation," said Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. "This is an extraordinary action for our community to take — and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world."

Wikipedia is encouraging U.S. residents to contact their elected representative in Washington to protest the possible passage of SOPA and PIPA.

Wikipedia is not the only organization against the legislation.

Many consumer electronics organizations, including the Consumer Electronics Associations, CCIA and NetCoalition have all expressed concerns about the legislation. Recording and movie industry organizations support the proposed legislation. Time-Warner, for example, has been a vocal supporter of the legislation.

It has also become a point of contention between various companies, depending on what side of the argument they fall on. GoDaddy, the website domain and Web hosting service, for example, had supported the legislation, which has sparked a call for a boycott of the company. The company has since reversed its position.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the legislation, which is one of the reasons that an organization called Google Quit the Chamber to call on Google to follow Yahoo's lead and end its membership in the national organization because its support. Ebay has also spoken out against the proposed legislation.

The tech community is shaken up, too, with tech-based companies fearing their content will be removed from the Web.

A Meetup.com group made of New York-based tech companies, called NY Tech Meetup (NYTM) has called an emergency meeting for tomorrow (Jan. 18) to protest the proposed legislation.

The emergency meeting has been called so that members of the New York tech community can physically and publicly demonstrate their collective concern at the unprecedented attack currently being made on the Internet and the New York tech industry through PIPA and SOPA, the organization said.

"I used to joke that 'Politicians don't know the difference between a server and a waiter' but even if they understand technology better now, the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation shows that they don't realize their solution won't work and will cause collateral damage," said Andrew Rasiej, chairman of NYTM’s board of directors. “These bills not only threaten the future of the New York tech industry, its other industries and its entire economic future, but fundamentally threaten the very nature of the Internet and its ability to promote freedom around the world.”

In an email call to action, NY Tech Meetup stated, "As much as we agree that pirated copyright material should be eliminated from the Web as much as possible, the cure that is being proposed and championed by the lobbying power of major copyright holding organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) will be much worse than the disease and irrevocably damage the very nature of the internet and, by extension, the future of New York. We believe it is imperative that we stop this bill from passage."

For a list of companies and organizations for and against the legislation, visit the web site OpenCongress.org.

Additional reporting by Paul Wagenseil, Managing Editor of SecurityNewsDaily.com.