Reference librarians are on high alert Wednesday as Wikipedia, the 6th biggest website on Earth, is offline along with thousands of smaller websites.
The “free encyclopedia anyone can edit” is among the many websites joining an online revolt against two anti-piracy bills currently being considered by Congress.
Other sites joining the protest Wednesday include Reddit, Wordpress, MoveOn, Boing Boing and Twitpic.
On Twitter, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said “I hope Wikipedia [users] will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”
The anti-piracy bills, dubbed SOPA and PIPA, are backed by the film and music industry and are allegedly designed to prevent the sharing of copyrighted material.
Opponents of SOPA read like a who’s who of the Internet. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, eBay, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL, and LinkedIn wrote a letter to key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, saying SOPA poses “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.”
The Obama administration recently issued a statement saying new laws that protect “intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative Internet, ” which sounds like the threat of a veto of the proposed legislation.
WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch appears upset on Twitter. ”So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery,” he wrote. ”Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”
The controversial legislation, once considered a sure thing, now appears to be “headed for a fierce fight,” reports The Wall Street Journal. The Senate will conduct a procedural vote on the legislation Jan. 24, reports the WSJ. House backers haven’t announced any plans to advance the legislation, but they said Friday that they will remove a provision that worried some cybersecurity experts.
Consumer Reports warns the legislation is “far from dead” despite opposition from the White House and recent changes to the bills.
Curtailing the piracy of copyrighted material is a tricky issue. Current federal laws prohibit the copying and redistribution of movies and music but are rarely enforced. Anyone that rides public transportation has surely been offered a bootleg DVD, but how many street peddlers get arrested?
Open source supporter Tim O’Reilly has an interesting take. He says “history teaches us that [piracy] is primarily a result of market failure, the unwillingness or inability of existing companies to provide their product at a price or in a manner that potential customers want.”
Would inexpensive CDs and DVDs or even cheaper digital downloads curtail illegal behavior? Maybe, but any capitalist will tell you it’s hard to compete with free.