Wikipedia joins Internet freedom laws bandwagon; Denounces proposed legislations

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An image grab from Wikipedia website protesting the controversial Internet law. Photo - Arabian Gazette

Every user of the Internet is hearing the PIPA and SOPA noise which is becoming inescapable, and most importantly, by the sound of it, painful. For those who did not come across it as of yet, here it is, the hullaballoo fresh from the pan.

PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, and SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, are the bills that are being considered by the US House of Representatives and the Senate, to tackle online piracy, with particular emphasis on illegal copies of films and other forms of media hosted on foreign servers.

The bills propose that anyone found guilty of streaming copyrighted content without permission 10 or more times within six months should face up to five years in jail.

The US 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 suspected site.

US-based Internet service providers, payment processors and advertisers would be outlawed from doing business with alleged copyright infringers.

The bills would also ban sites from containing information on how to access blocked sites.

The bills originally demanded that internet service providers block users from being able to access suspect sites using a technique called Domain Name System (DNS) blocking.

The language is pretty vague, but it appears all these companies must monitor their sites for anti-circumvention so they are not subject to court actions enjoining them from continuing to provide such product or service,Marvin Ammori,US Constitution’s First Amendment expert, pointed out in an interview.

That means social media sites like Facebook or YouTubebasicallyanysite with user generated contentwould have to police their own sites, forcing huge liability costs onto countless Internet companies. This is exactly why venture capitalistshave said en massethey wont invest in online startups if PIPA and SOPA pass.

THE EFFECT

These so-called ‘harsh’ bills have caused certain online companies to gear up and arm themselves with noise. Consequently, Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing and Anonymous are going dark Wednesday in condemnation of these bills.

“This is going to be wow,” Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said onTwitter. “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”

“If you want an Internet wherehuman rights, free speech and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry’s profits, I hope you’ll join us,” said Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing.

Wikipedia will go dark for 24 hours. The website will shut down its English-language site beginning at 05:00 UTC on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Wikipedia is a hugely popular online encyclopaedia, particularly amongst students, and attracts millions of hits every day, is the most vocal opponent of the proposed legislation.

“Freedom is never voluntarily givenby the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed, MLK on Wednesday, Wikipedia demands,” Wales said via Twitter Monday. He told students: “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa.”

The official statement also noted the impact the bill could have on the Internet as a free entity.

“Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation,” said Wales in the official statement. “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.”

Reddit, the “crowd-curated” information sharing forum, will go dark for 12 hours on Wednesday, 18 January, from 8am to 8pm EST (1300-0100 UTC).

“We’ve seen some amazing activism organised by redditors at/r/sopaand across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelmingvoicesfrom the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit,” read theofficial statement.

Instead of publishing its typical content, Reddit will circulate anti-PIPA/SOPA information on how the legislation will hinder sites like Reddit, providelinks to resources to learn more and suggest how citizens can take action.

Tumblr, the microblogging platform and social media networking site, has been encouraging activism since November. That month, the website facilitated 87,834 individuals to call their representatives with a total of 1,293 hours of talk time in protest of the PIPA/SOPA bills.

NO END IN SIGHT

The entertainment industry and computer software publishing companies are seen as the main beneficiaries of these bills – with television networks, music publishers, book publishers, software geeks, and the likes – stand to gain once the legislation becomes law.

“More than 2.2 million hard-working, middle-class people in all 50 states depend on the entertainment industry for their jobs and many millions more work in other industries that rely on intellectual property,” Michael O’Leary of theMotion Picture Association of Americasaid in a statement. “For all these workers and their families, online content and counterfeiting by these foreign sites mean declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits.”

Critics of the bills include Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Zynga.

While SOPA has been put on hold temporarily, the PIPA bill is going full steam ahead. If passed, The Pirate Bay and other torrent sites may be the first to come under fire.

Sources: BBC, eff.org, ibtimes, torrentfreak

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