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Social media responds to Wiki blackout

Wikipedia's English site will be on shutdown for 24 hours in protest of two Bills making their way through the US houses of Congress.

Social media has been abuzz with commentary and debate around today's Wikipedia blackout, instigated by proposed American censorship legislation.

The popular community-edited online encyclopaedia went on shutdown at 7am this morning and will remain so until the same time tomorrow, for 24 hours.

Instead of the usual informative content, a visit to the site will, for the next 20-odd hours, yield nothing but a stark explanatory statement that reads: “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge. For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopaedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”

According to Reuters, the move, announced by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Monday, was supported by a host of other Web companies, including Reddit and Mozilla.

An unprecedented scenario, the shutdown of Wikipedia comes in reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) currently making their way through the US houses of Congress.

The legislation, says Reuters, has been a major priority for entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical firms and many industry groups, who say it is critical to curbing online piracy that costs them billions of dollars a year.

Twitter buzz

Kicking off the Twitter buzz with the announcement on Monday, Wales posted the following on his Twitter account: “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday! #sopa”

Having opened the floodgates, Wales' post was followed by a torrent of responses, from humorous to slightly sombre, on the micro-blogging social network. Some of these included:

“With Wikipedia down, I dug out my encyclopaedia and I'm learning about new countries like Yugoslavia and East Germany.” (sic)

“No wikipedia?? F*slams keyboard* *1974 Funk & Wagnalls Wildlife Encylopedia falls from shelf, lands pages open to Sonic Kissing Tails entry*” (sic)

“Wikipedia-free-Wednesday is like a time-capsule to when people won nerdfights due to nostalgic attrition. Facts had nothing to do with it.” (sic)

“With Wikipedia down, we can just start making stuff up again. #StopSOPA”

“The reach that this bill has could effectively end Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, email services, Wikipedia, millions of similar sites anyway.” (sic)

“No more YouTube, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook.. #StopSopa Tell Congress: Don't censor the web! http://www.google.com/takeaction/” (sic)

Facebook feed

Wales' Twitter account status points social networkers to Wikipedia's Facebook page for further information and comment on SOPA and PIPA: “With your help, we will stop #sopa!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jimmy-Wales/10655515679.”

Within two hours of the post outlining the reasoning behind the blackout going live, the issue had elicited thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments.

Wikipedia's Facebook post states that the blackout is intended to “raise awareness about legislation being proposed by the US Congress... and to encourage readers to speak out against it.”

The decision, according to Wikipedia's Facebook wall, was made by the online encyclopaedia's global community of editors, “the people who built Wikipedia”. The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organisation that operates Wikipedia, also opposes SOPA and PIPA, and supports the editors' blackout.”

Wikipedia says that, although recent media reports have suggested that the SOPA and PIPA Bills are losing support, they are not dead. “PIPA could be debated in the US Senate as soon as next week. There is a need to send a strong message that Bills like SOPA and PIPA must not move forward: they will cause too much damage.”

Legal lash

New media lawyer Paul Jacobson says content creators need new attitudes, not new censorship. He says the entertainment industry's focus tends to be regimented licensing arrangements, which appear to be designed to protect a business model that developed “before the Internet went mainstream and which is designed to protect entrenched distribution channels”.

“The industry has made excellent use of metaphors like 'pirate' and 'piracy' to malign consumers who obtain and share content illegally and without making use of existing, yet inconvenient and overly restrictive, distribution channels. As the Internet increasingly becomes a part of our daily lives and sharing our lives more frictionless, consumers expect to be able to obtain their content just as easily.

“Rather than making a concerted effort to change its business models and embrace the Internet and the opportunities it presents, the entertainment industry has adopted a protectionist strategy and has lobbied legislative bodies to clamp down on consumers who defy the industry. Those consumers are labelled pirates and branded criminals and yet anecdotal evidence is that consumers will generally pay for content they can conveniently obtain at a reasonable price.”

Jacobson says this is why so many South Africans create US iTunes accounts to buy content from the iTunes store, even though the official iTunes store isn't available in SA.

“Of course, consumers who are intent on downloading content with no intention of paying for it will do that anyway.”

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