Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Google joins Wikipedia 'day of darkness' protest

Wikipedia shut down its English-language sites today in protest at U.S. plans to police the internet and combat piracy - and their move has been echoed by 7,000 sites across the net.

Search giant Google has 'blacked out' its logo on its U.S. home page in solidarity with Wikipedia's move - and sites and services such as BoingBoing, Reddit, WordPress, Firefox and Metafilter are fully or partially 'blacking out' in support.

Wikipedia now loads a black 'protest' page instead of entries from the encyclopedia - only the English-language version is affected, and only the version accessed via certain browsers such as PC and iPad. Phone browsers do not load the 'black' protest page at all. An estimated 100 million users could be affected by the move.

Black out: Wikipedia shut down its English-language site today in protest at draconian plans to police the internet and combat piracy.


A message attributed to hacker group Anonymous has promised action against Sony for its former support of the SOPA anti-piracy act in the U.S.

Wikipedia, which shut down at 5am British time, will go dark for 24 hours, in an unprecedented move that brings added muscle to a growing base of critics of the legislation.

Users attemping to access the site were met with a black screen and the statement: 'Imagine a world without free knowledge.'

Jimmy Wales, who founded the site, had warned students via Twitter to ‘do your homework early’ ahead of the shutdown.

Other internet heavyweights such as BoingBoing also 'went dark' for the 24 hour strike-part of a widespread protest campaign orchestrated via social sites such as Reddit.

Google earlier ruled out the possibility of blacking out itself. But the search giant changed its home page to show a black patch covering its logo to show its support for the campaign.

They are angry about the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act, which are going before the U.S. Congress.

The laws are designed to prevent online pirates from making music, film, television shows and eBooks available free of charge.

However, critics argue they go much further and amount to an attempt to control and censor the internet, so curtailing freedom of expression.

'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,' the Wikimedia foundation said.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.

The chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, Chris Dodd, said the strike was a 'dangerous gimmick' and said, 'It is a disservice to people who rely on them for information and who use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.'

Critics say the legislation is too broad and could hurt the technology industry and infringe on free-speech rights.

Among their concerns are provisions that would weaken cyber-security for companies and hinder domain access rights.

The most controversial provision is in the House bill, which would have enabled authorities to 'blacklist' sites that are alleged to distribute pirated content.

That would essentially cut off portions of the internet to all US users. But congressional leaders appear to be backing off from this provision.

There are also fears they will give the U.S. authorities even greater powers to pursue alleged law-breakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Last week, UK courts decided to extradite British student Richard O’Dwyer to the U.S. on charges of online piracy.

In theory, the 23-year-old could be jailed for ten years for setting up the TVShack website, which provided links to free pirate downloads of films and TV programmes.

His defenders claim he is small fry in the piracy industry and say Google, which has huge financial and political muscle, is a major player.

Google has never been prosecuted even though its search engine gives links to many sites that offer illegal streaming or pirate downloads of films, music, TV shows and eBooks.

Not today: Blog BoingBoing also went dark for the 24 hour strike-part of a widespread protest campaign orchestrated via social sites such as Reddit.


Gagged: Google earlier ruled out the possibility of blacking out itself. But the search giant changed its home page to show a black patch covering its logo- to show its support for the campaign.


Mr Wales said in a statement: 'Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation.

'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.'

He added that the bills were a threat to the free, open, and secure web.

'The whole thing is just a poorly designed mess,' he said.

Wikipedia is also requesting that readers contact members of Congress about the bill during the blackout.

'I am personally asking everyone who cares about freedom and openness on the internet to contact their senators and representative,' Mr Wales said.

'One of the things we have learned recently during the Arab Spring events is that the internet is a powerfully effective tool for the public to organise and have their voices heard.'

According to a press release, users of the site have discussed for more than a month whether it should react to the legislation and, in the past few days, tried to decide how.

The foundation behind the site, Wikimedia, said it collected input from users over a period of 72 hours before making its final decision on Monday evening based on that feedback.

'This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation,' a statement on the Wikimedia Foundation website reads.

'The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills.'

'Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.'

Mr Wales told the BBC: ‘Proponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act have characterised the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy.

‘But that’s not really the point. The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it’s going to impact all kinds of things that don’t have anything to do with stopping piracy.’

Protesting: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales expects an estimated 100 million visitors to be affected by a Wikipedia black out.


He claimed the proposals were part of a wider attempt by governments to regulate the internet.

‘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.’

Barack Obama has hinted he may water down the proposals, which would remove the possibility of Google and others being prosecuted for directing people to pirate websites.

Big Brother Watch, the UK civil liberties campaign group, backed the Wikipedia protest.

Its director Nick Pickles said: ‘The proposals represent a blunt attack on freedom of speech, based upon a deeply flawed understanding of how the internet works.’

Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others have also questioned the legislation and said it poses a serious risk to the industry.

The Obama administration has also raised concerns about the legislation.

The administration said over the weekend that it will work with Congress on legislation to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy, security and innovation in the Internet.

Announcement: Wales wrote on Twitter yesterday that the popular community-based online encyclopedia will shut down its English versions for 24 hours in protest.


This is the first time Wikipedia's English version has gone dark. Its Italian site came down once briefly in protest to an internet censorship bill put forward by the Berlusconi government; the bill did not advance.

'Wikipedia is about being open,' said Jay Walsh, spokesman for the Wikimedia foundation.
'We are not about shutting down and protesting. It's not a muscle that is normally flexed.'
STATEMENT FROM WIKIPEDIA - IN FULL

Today, the Wikipedia community announced its decision to black out the English-language Wikipedia for 24 hours, worldwide, beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, January 18 (you can read the statement from the Wikimedia Foundation here). The blackout is a protest against proposed legislation in the United States – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate – that, if passed, would seriously damage the free and open Internet, including Wikipedia.

This will be the first time the English Wikipedia has ever staged a public protest of this nature, and it’s a decision that wasn’t lightly made. Here’s how it’s been described by the three Wikipedia administrators who formally facilitated the community’s discussion. From the public statement, signed by User:NuclearWarfare, User:Risker and User:Billinghurst:

It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.

Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.

On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States. The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead. We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations.

In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them.

But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,

We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.

But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.

The decision to shut down the English Wikipedia wasn’t made by me; it was made by editors, through a consensus decision-making process. But I support it.

Like Kat and the rest of the Wikimedia Foundation Board, I have increasingly begun to think of Wikipedia’s public voice, and the goodwill people have for Wikipedia, as a resource that wants to be used for the benefit of the public. Readers trust Wikipedia because they know that despite its faults, Wikipedia’s heart is in the right place. It’s not aiming to monetize their eyeballs or make them believe some particular thing, or sell them a product. Wikipedia has no hidden agenda: it just wants to be helpful.

That’s less true of other sites. Most are commercially motivated: their purpose is to make money. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a desire to make the world a better place – many do! – but it does mean that their positions and actions need to be understood in the context of conflicting interests.

My hope is that when Wikipedia shuts down on January 18, people will understand that we’re doing it for our readers. We support everyone’s right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe in a free and open Internet where information can be shared without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA, and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States, don’t advance the interests of the general public. You can read a very good list of reasons to oppose SOPA and PIPA here, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Why is this a global action, rather than US-only? And why now, if some American legislators appear to be in tactical retreat on SOPA?

The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. 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. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.

Make your voice heard!

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On January 18, we hope you’ll agree with us, and will do what you can to make your own voice heard.
Source: DailyMail.co.uk

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