On Wednesday at exactly twelve o' clock, the English language subsidiary of Wikipedia faded to black. Why?
According to its administrators, a bold action of protest was necessary to thwart passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), as well as the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The first is currently being considered in the House of Representatives and the second is making its way through the Senate. If successfully voted upon by both branches of congress, combined into a single bill, and finally signed into law by President Obama, these could change the very face of the internet as Americans know it.
Both pieces of legislation would effectively allow the federal government to block websites that illicitly host copyrighted material. There is much more being brought to the table, including the opportunity for lawsuits to be filed against website owners who unknowingly publish or allow others to publish objectionable items, but that is the crux of it. As all of my semi-regular readers surely know, I am a huge supporter of private property rights. If I were a lawyer representing, say, the Warner Music Group, I would vigorously pursue cases in which my clients' works were being distributed unjustly. Nonetheless, using the feds to neutralize entire websites and seeking monetary gain from those caught in the middle is not necessary, nor is it in keeping with the internet's spirit of open communication.
I hope that Wikipedia finds its shutdown, purportedly lasting for a whole day, to be successful in raising awareness about Big Business and Big Government banning together to form a terrifying new rendition of Big Brother. On Tuesday, news was trickling in that both SOPA and PIPA are facing unexpected snags, with influential members of both parties on Capitol Hill. Let us hope that this proves to be true, and that pirates are held accountable for their actions in more efficient, less tyrannical manners.
After all, it really would be a shame to see YouTube, Vimeo, Grooveshark, and perhaps even Wikipedia regulated into bankruptcy and, eventually, nonexistence. That certainly is not the capitalistic, nor is it the traditional American, way.