The SOPA Blackout: Did You Feel the Pain Today?

I was already against SOPA before the internet blackout today, so Wikipedia et al. shutting down didn't necessarily impact my thoughts on the legislation. However, it did make me realize how much I have grown accustomed to using Wikipedia in everyday life. I know it isn't always perfect, but for the quick refresher or primer on most topics, it is an invaluable resource.

It also made me wonder whether any of our readers were impacted by the action. Did you change your mind on SOPA one way or another? If not, did you at least become more aware of the issue? If so, do you think this was an effective protest? Were you just mad that you couldn't easily look up information of questionable provenance? Any thoughts would be appreciated in the comments section.


  1. Anonymous19/1/12 15:23

    My actions during Wiki's blackout protest brought to my mind the Sisyphean task legislators face in policing the net. Wikipedia went black, so I found ways to work around it. At first, I realized that I could use the Google cache of each page; of course, using links between articles brought the black banner. But then I learned I could stop the banner by disabling Java scripts, and use Wikipedia as usual.

    Obviously, Wikipedia's real goal was not to lock themselves behind a firewall, but to build awareness about SOPA. I have no doubt they could have kept a neophyte like myself out had they been determined. But real hackers would learn a work-around, and share it--that's what the Internet does best, share information from specialists with everyday users.

    And that's the rub for Congress: not even Google or Wikipedia could shut down access to the Internet, even if they wanted to do so. Egypt famously pulled the plug on the Internet, but even that extreme measure will get only more difficult to pull off as networks and devices multiply.

    But Congress doesn't want to kill the Internet, just to stop illegal sharing (and selling) of protected works. But policing the Internet is probably impossible even for the people who built it. Heck, Apple couldn't even keep people from unlocking their phones. SOPA may be DOA, but the problem won't go away.

  2. Wow, creative workaround. I just didn't cite anything that day!

    Joking aside, I do think that the action was effective in that the companies met their objective. As I read in a criticism of Citizens United the other day, this is what happens when big companies use speech as speech instead of using money as speech...

    I agree that piracy is an issue, and I know that fighting piracy is one of the purposes of government. However, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't happy to see SOPA go. I saw it as a classic case of overreach which would have been nearly impossible to come back from. It was like bringing a tank to a gun fight.


  3. Anonymous21/1/12 10:57

    " this is what happens when big companies use speech as speech instead of using money as speech..."

    Wow, that is actually one of my pet peeves. How, exactly, did Wikipedia or Google use speech as speech? Because they used words and images? How is that different than an ad?

    Oh, because they wrote it on their own websites? So it's okay for Citizens United to buy a newspaper, but not an ad in that newspaper?

    Corporations don't have lips or hands. They don't speak, period. They are groups of people who combine resources--and they have a right to speak. Corporations either use donated labor (which counts as money for election purposes) or they pay people to write messages. Google's engineers didn't work for free on Wednesday. Wikipedia relies on volunteers, but it also spends money (that's why they ask for donations). Their servers weren't free on Wednesday--they spent money to send their message.

    The problem with the law Citizens United struck down was that the New York Times and Google had free speech because they own the media, but the NRA and National Wildlife Fund don't have free speech because they're not "media" companies. Even their newsletters would have been banned if they overtly commented on elections. That is counter to every theory of free speech out there, except for the liberal theory of "too much speech is bad."

    Yes, rich people can buy more ads, print more newsletters, buy more radio stations. So what? The solution to speech is more speech--that's the First Amendment theory. I'm sick of the non-thinking argument that "money isn't speech." What it really means is that SOME money spent on speech is okay, and some of it isn't.

  4. For the record, I don't necessarily disagree with the holding of CU, it is more the case that I was impressed by the impact that the actions of the web companies (ie employees/c- suite/board/take your pick) had.

    In any case, thanks for bringing your perspective to the site, I think you had some interesting things to say.