What would we do without Wikipedia? It was a dilemma I faced today. I really needed to find out who the editor of a national newspaper was. Without Wikipedia, it took me twice as long, and even then I wasn’t sure if I got the name right.
Wikipedia has decided to black out its English language site today, Jan 18, in protest against the proposed SOPA bill in the US Congress. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and its cousin PIPA (Protect IP Act) are anti-piracy bills which will see sites being targeted for the use of pirated material.
The bill protects American content alone, but it will of course affect the whole internet. Reddit, Google and Facebook have spoken out against SOPA saying it will lead to the censorship. It means the next time your friend shares a stupid meme on your Facebook wall, both you, your friend and Facebook can get into trouble if it’s in breach of copyright.
Huge websites like Wikipedia and Facebook find it difficult to patrol everything put up in their site and they could find themselves sued by a music company-for example- for distributing pirated material. And a huge proportion of internet content is generated in the US.
The rights and wrongs of SOPA aside, today’s blackout highlights the reliance that some of us have on the internet. Even if Wikipedia is full of inaccurate information, it’s gotten many a college student through an assignment. Where else would you go to find out who Simone de Beauvoir was, what string theory might mean or even Britney Spears’ discography?
Wikipedia’s blackout was one of the top trends today on Twitter. The subject was treated largely as a joke, but within hours, tips were flooding the internet on how to get around Wikipedia’s blackout. All a matter of stopping the page loading at the right moment apparently.
But what about those rare creatures who aren’t reliant on the internet? Will SOPA, if passed, lead to a flood of people going offline? If information on the internet is curtailed, well, what’s the point of it?
Is it time to get that dusty Encyclopaedia Britannica down from the attic?
*Credit to Mrs Stephen Fry (@MrsStephenFry) for the headline.
This article appeared on Studenty.me on January 18 2012.