Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Censorship on Wikipedia and Google

Today, if you go to the main page on, you will see this:

At the same time, if you go to any page on the English Wikipedia pages, you will see this:

Why the censorship Google banner and (English) Wikipedia black-out? Well, according to (English) Wikipedia's only working page (at least for today):
Wikipedia is protesting against SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Readers who come to English Wikipedia during the blackout will not be able to read the encyclopedia. Instead, you will see messages intended to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA, encouraging you to share your views with your representatives, and with each other on social media.
And just what are SOPA and PIPA? (Other than innocuous-sounding pseudonyms?)
SOPA and PIPA represent two bills in the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate respectively. SOPA is short for the "Stop Online Piracy Act," and PIPA is an acronym for the "Protect IP Act." ("IP" stands for "intellectual property.") In short, these bills are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but, in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet. Detailed information about these bills can be found in the Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act articles on Wikipedia, which are available during the blackout. GovTrack lets you follow both bills through the legislative process: SOPA on this page, and PIPA on this one. The EFF has summarized why these bills are simply unacceptable in a world that values an open, secure, and free Internet.
So, why the blackout?
Why? SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won't be effective at their stated goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won't show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.
You can still access (English) Wikipedia (check out the technical FAQ page), you can still do so. Otherwise, log in to Wikipedia in any other language that you can speak, because these pages aren't blacked out today. For example, the (Spanish) Wikipedia page looks like this:
Unlike Google, which offers search engines for most countries (and isn't sporting the censored Google logo there), Wikipedia has their content organized by language. Therefore, a lot of people in other English-speaking countries, will get to be exposed to a bit (more) of what's happening in the American political landscape. To the rest of the English-Wikipedia-by-default-using world, I hope you agree that SOPA and PIPA are not things that will help you continue to enjoy (and use, even if you don't enjoy them) the content of sites like Wikipedia that we have all come to accept as an expected part of the Interwebs landscape. If SOPA and PIPA do go into effect, it might well have an effect in your neck of the woods; another example (perhaps to you) of American-style imperialism hitting home. (Of course, some - like in India - might say that unfettered Interwebs use is itself a form of American-style imperialism hitting home, but any major change that happens with content use and access online that comes from the US will - presently - have major direct impacts throughout the English-using world as well as much of the non-English-using world.)

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