Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia blackout over proposed censorship laws

Wikipedia is to shut down for 24 hours in protest over proposed laws which it says will stifle freedom of speech. Other website and portals have also announced they will take part in the blackout protest including the user-generated news site Reddit and the blog Boing Boing [BBC].

The blackout protests are a reaction to proposed bills which proponents say are necessary to curb rising piracy and breaches of copyright infringement on the web.

The Stop Online Piracy Act [Sopa] and Protect Intellectual Property Act [Pipa] are being debated by Congress in the United States. The new laws could force US based sites to shut down permanently of face heavy fines if they are found to use copyrighted material. In the past sites would only be obliged to remove the content [BBC].

But Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, says the issue is not as clear cut as lawmakers maintain. "Proponents of Sopa have characterised the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy," Wales said in an interview with the BBC, "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, you know, don't have anything to do with stopping piracy."

And there appear to be some signs that the White House appear to be partially on the side of those protesting against the bills. In a statement published on their website, the White House 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 cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Furthermore, the statement emphasised the importance of protecting freedom of speech. "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 White House said.

Such statements have prompted some proponents of the bill to react angrily, saying the government was not serious in its effort to stamp out piracy. This week media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined the debate, hitting out at the Obama administration as well as the search giant Google. "So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery," he lambasted in a series of tweets that drew much publicity.

Murdoch's criticism was primarily directed at Google who he accused of directly making money from the online pirates. "Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying," Murdoch claimed in another tweet.

Google responded saying they do everything they can to tackle copyright infringement.  The company told technology website CNET that Murdoch's comments were "nonsense" and in an interview with the BBC a spokesman was quoted as saying, "Google respects copyright - and we've worked hard to help rights holders deal with piracy"

"Last year we took down five million infringing web pages from our search results and invested more than 60 million dollars in the fight against bad ads," the spokesman added.

Google is in a battle not only with the likes of Rupert Murdoch, who has previously criticised Google of stealing his news content, but also many commentators in the blogosphere.

Some bloggers and writers have come in defence of Murdoch and concede, if somewhat reluctantly, that he has a point. BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones questioned whether Google had deviated from its "Do No Evil" mantra. Meanwhile, writing on The Music Void, Jakomi Mathews says, "The fact Google continues to serve up search results linking to sites that make money from advertising and subscription fees, yet never pay the rights holder is quite frankly morally reprehensible." And he says that properly thought out legislation could target and block infringing sites such as Pirate Bay in the same way ISPs and search engines block child pornography.

Google, who oppose Sopa, appears to be broadly in agreement with such an approach. In a statement made this week the company suggested "targeted legislation that would require ad networks and payment processors - like ours - to cut off sites dedicated to Piracy or counterfeiting".

Should the legislators win and block certain websites, the battle is unlikely to be over. Just as so-called netizens in China jump the firewall to circumvent government censorship, the use of VPNs and similar technology will likely grow if traffic to sites such as Pirate Bay are blocked in the West.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

1 comment:

Anita said...

There is no way either SOPA or PIPA has a chance of making it out of either house of the Congress (House of Representatives, and Senate), let alone get passed. This is just a preemptive strike by Wales to keep the status quo. These psychotic bills are introduced all the time in the legislative branch of the US gov't without ever becoming a law. However, it might be a whole different scenario in India as the legal system has already initiated a process to block free flow of information. I would personally recommend Indians to stand up against the Indian gov't before it's too late. In the age of information, a country has no hope of thriving wout free flow and untapped access to it. Good luck!