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The Internet Blackout's Grey Area

February 08, 2012

Late last month Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and other tech titans spearheaded an Internet site “blackout” contesting the PROTECT IP and Stop Online Piracy Acts pending in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  Through their popular websites, the companies drew enormous attention to their legislative opposition to the bills. 

While the tactic arguably succeeded in the short run, its wisdom – and the precedent it may have set –  was questioned by numerous commentators, newspaper editorial boards and business executives.  Below is a sampling of excerpts.


As the RIAA’s Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman said today in a guest column in the New York TimesIt has become clear that, at this point, neither SOPA, PIPA, nor OPEN are viable answers... We all share the goal of a safe and legal Internet. We need reason, not rhetoric, in discussing how to achieve it. 

Editorial note: We have not included pieces below from the bills’ supporters (if you want those see here, here and here).  This, rather, is a compilation of voices other than our own, that we think raise an important point.

NY Times columnist Bill Keller: Steal This Column
February 5, 2012

…I was startled to see that Wikipedia’s founder and philosopher, Jimmy Wales, who generally stays out of the political limelight, had assumed a higher profile as a combatant for the tech industry. He supplied an aura of credibility to a libertarian alliance that ranged from the money-farming Megatrons of Google to the hacker anarchists of Anonymous…

The partisans of an unfettered Internet saw their moment, and seized it. They unleashed a wave of protest that included much waving of the First Amendment and an attention-grabbing blackout of Wikipedia, the company’s most conspicuous foray into protest politics.

Financial Times columnist John Gapper: Halt the Silicon Valley histrionics
January 18, 2012

The blackouts were a dramatic gesture but curbing piracy does not “destroy the internet as we know it”. It would be wiser for Silicon Valley to cut the histrionics and help to fashion a decent law.

NY Times columnist David Pogue: Put Down the Pitchforks on SOPA
January 19, 2012

But it was a sloppy success; the scare language used by some of the Web sites was just as flawed as the Congressional language that they opposed.

WSJ Editorial: Brake the Internet Pirates
January 17, 2012

How’s that for irony: Companies supposedly devoted to the free flow of information are gagging themselves, and the only practical effect will be to enable fraudsters. They've taken no comparable action against, say, Chinese repression…

The House bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and its Senate counterpart are far more modest than this cyber tantrum suggests.

AP: Wikipedia editors question site’s planned blackout
January 17, 2012

But some editors are so uneasy with the move that they have blacked out their own user profile pages or resigned their administrative rights on the site to protest. Some likened the site's decision to fighting censorship with censorship.

NY Times Op-Ed: The False Ideals of the Web
January 18, 2012

Popular sites like Wikipedia staged a blackout on Wednesday to protest the bills. Google put a black banner over its name. Nothing quite like that has ever happened before. This is extraordinary, because it shows that belief in the priority of fighting SOPA is so absolute as to trump the stated nonpartisan missions of these sites…

But our opposition has become so extreme that we are doing more harm than good to our own cause. Those rare tech companies that have come out in support of SOPA are not merely criticized but barred from industry events and subject to boycotts. We, the keepers of the flame of free speech, are banishing people for their speech. The result is a chilling atmosphere, with people afraid to speak their minds.

New York Daily News Editorial: Sink the pirates
January 20, 2012

Wikipedia, Google and other websites went up in arms over fears, to name just two, that the legislation could start the U.S. toward Internet censorship or expose upstanding businesses to liabilities.  Much of the criticism was hypothetical, imagining a Justice Department that would go after every college kid who downloaded a song, every website that posted it and everyone who tweeted a link to a video.

LA Times Editorial: Web freedom vs. Web piracy
January 20, 2012


But if tech companies convince lawmakers and millions of Web users that any solution is worse than the problem, then it will simply be a victory for a powerful new form of advocacy by the companies best able to plant their message in the echo chamber of the Net.

The Detroit News Editorial: Congress should log off piracy bills
January 24, 2012

The tech industry could do more to offer solutions — rather than just scream censorship.

The Dallas Morning News Op-Ed: The Truth Behind Google’s Copyright-Bills Hysteria
January 26, 2012

The tech industry has demonstrated great political clout through the mobilization of its users and fan base; and the industry lobby, led by Google, will say and do pretty much anything to advance its commercial interests.

The Nation: Kill the Internet—and Other Anti-SOPA Myths
January 24, 2012  

SOPA and PIPA bashers were also a little loose with the word “censorship”. To me, that word should be reserved for government power that restricts ideas—like the US government locking up Eugene Debs for opposing World War I, or prosecuting City Lights Books for selling Howl. This kind of repression is common now in China, where most computers and cell phones are made by oppressed labor. Real censorship is dreadful enough that there ought to be a different word for laws that would try to prevent websites from illegally posting the latest Mission Impossible movies or making ancillary income from the eyeballs such transactions attract.

Yale Daily News Op-Ed: SOPA is no apocalypse
January 20, 2012

Finally, what’s truly disappointing about the debacle that will likely end in SOPA’s death is that the bill’s critics have, in the name of promoting a free Internet, exploited the power that comes with that free Internet in the very worst way possible.

The Herald Scotland columnist Iain MacWhirter: Wiki boss has picked the wrong fight for democracy
January 19, 2012

But in taking itself down yesterday in protest, Wikipedia was engaged in its own form of powerplay. Clearly on this one issue, Wikipedia is taking sides, and is denying access to information in an attempt to strong arm a democratically elected legislature…

And I am really rather worried that Mr Wales has chosen to use his own muscle in trying to challenge laws which are, whatever you think of them, the product of a democratic process…

Maybe it's time to say that Wikipedia has got too big for its own good. Mr Wales's website may be on the side of the angels, but after yesterday's blackout it has lost its innocence.

Forbes: Quote of the Day: Twitter’s CEO Calls SOPA Blackout ‘Foolish’
January 16, 2012

“That’s just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”

– Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, reacting to news that sites like Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing plan to “go dark” on January 18 to demonstrate their opposition to the Stop Online Privacy Act. Less goofing off for you at work on Wednesday!