The House set to vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) this Thursday, a bill that depending on who you are is seen as either protecting intellectual property or censoring the Internet. The bill seeks to remove “rogue” websites hosting unauthorized copyrighted material, but in the process, as the bill is written, could take down sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as collateral damage.

Wikipedia Considering Blackout in Protest to SOPA | Google Chairman Says Law Would Criminalize Internet

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Groups advocating freedom on the Internet have worked to get their message across, Google CEO Eric Schmidt has lambasted the bill, among other actions to raise awareness, but Wikipedia is stepping up with a threat of its own.

As an opponent to the bill, Wikipedia is considering blanking out all pages. This has not happened yet and a timeframe for when or if it will happen is unknown, but Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has posed the idea to the Wikipedia community.

He wrote over the weekend:

A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of ‘Stop Online Piracy Act‘ is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track. I may be attending a meeting at the White House on Monday (pending confirmation on a couple of fronts) along with executives from many other top Internet firms, and I thought this would be a good time to take a quick reading of the community feeling on this issue. My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case. There are obviously many questions about whether the strike should be geotargetted (US-only), etc. (One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government.) At the same time, it’s of course a very very big deal to do something like this, it is unprecedented for English Wikipedia.

So, this is a straw poll. Please !vote either ‘support’ or ‘oppose’ with a reason, and try to keep wide-ranging discussion to the section below the poll.

To be clear, this is NOT a vote on whether or not to have a strike. This is merely a straw poll to indicate overall interest. If this poll is firmly ‘opposed’ then I’ll know that now. But even if this poll is firmly in ‘support’ we’d obviously go through a much longer process to get some kind of consensus around parameters, triggers, and timing.

Some who support this action say it would gain publicity for the cause and get their point across to lawmakers while others, even Wikipedia supporters, don’t think the content on the site should be blacked out. Here are some comments from the Wikipedia community:

  • Firmly Support SOPA and Protect IP are terrible bills that pose a real threat to Wikipedia and the overall health of the internet. This plan would draw attention to the seriousness of the issue. Kevin Renfrow (talk) 07:09, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
  • Firmly Support SOPA is an existential threat to Wikipedia, not a political one. Would we warn people of a server outage because we can’t pay the bills, or do we not get involved in economic issues either? Libertarian23423 (talk) 07:01, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
  • Weak Oppose A compromise: Add big SOPA warning headers to every article and shift the article content “below the fold” of the page. Please DO NOT block access to Wikipedia’s content. Runtime (talk) 06:25, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose SOPA bad. Wikipedia good. Don’t go down the political path. It is a slippery slope. Once you start it is hard to stop. What will be the next political hot topic Wikipedia steps in on? One of the five pillars of Wikipedia is to stay neutral. Be strong, stay the way you are.
  • Support. Here is what I recommend: Facebook, google, youtube and wikipedia should take down their sites and replace them with a message about SOPA all on the same day. But it shouldn’t end there. They should also personally attack each of the original progenators in the Senate/House of the bill. Their political careers need to end that day. It’s not enough to simply stop this bill. If they do, another will be enacted pretty soon with pretty much the same problems. Politicians need to understand that if they take on the internet and choose record labels over their own constituents they cannot expect support from their own political base. Karlzt (talk) 02:38, 13 December 2011 (UTC)
  • Oppose The issue has not been well stated, the community has not been well informed, and if I am going to pick up pitchfork and torch, I’m going to pick the issue to do it on. Sorry.–Wehwalt (talk) 08:58, 10 December 2011 (UTC)

In November the House Judiciary Committee said it would be “open to changes but only legitimate changes” for the bill that is largely supported by those in Hollywood and in the music industry. CNET reports that since then “tweaks” have been made but even still the bill remains unpopular to many groups:

“There are still significant problems with the approach,” said Public Knowledge attorney Sherwin Siy. The revised version of SOPA “continues to encourage DNS blocking and filtering, which should be concerning for internet security experts and human rights activists alike,” he said. DNS stands for the Domain Name System.

Ryan Radia, associate director of technology studies at the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute, says SOPA v2.0 is “better than the old one, and more carefully written in several places.” But, Radia says, “it’s still a very bad bill.”

Schmidt was recently reported as saying that if the bill goes through, it would lead to “criminalizing” of the Internet. The Hill reports that Schmidt reiterating that websites, such as search engines, that link to foreign websites with pirated content would be punished unjustly:

“By criminalizing links, what these bills do is they force you to take content off the Internet,” Schmidt said, calling it a form of censorship.

[...]

“If Congress passes a bad law, we all suffer,” Schmidt said.

He compared the proposal to the Web censorship practiced by repressive foreign governments like China and doubled down on that comparison when speaking with reporters after his remarks at the Economic Club of Washington.

“It’s not a good thing. I understand the goal of what SOPA and PIPA are trying to do,” Schmidt said of the Senate counterpart bill, the Protect IP Act. “Their goal is responsible, their mechanism terrible. They should not criminalize the intermediaries. They should go after the people that are violating the law.

The bill has 25 co-sponsors from both parties and would require websites to keep tabs on their site for “pirated material” and if found the site would be subject to being taken down.

[H/T GeekOSystem]