A casual visit to Wikipedia this past Wednesday would not retrieve desired information about your latest research after just a click. Wikipedia, like several other websites, had “blacked out” its homepages to protest two pieces of proposed anti-piracy legislation, the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA).
According to “The New York Times,” the bills are backed by major media and entertainment companies and “are mostly intended to curtail the illegal downloading and streaming of TV shows and movies online.”
The technology industry, however, “fears that, among other things, [the bills] will give media companies too much power to shut down sites that they say are abusing copyrights.”
Over 7,000 websites participated in the coordinated, Internet-wide “blackout” protest, according to CBS News.
As students stumbled against these images of political activism, some found themselves frustrated by the blackout, though others felt they understood the necessity for protest.
Some students changed their Facebook profile pictures to protest against the bills. One image depicting a red no symbol foretells, “Notice: This image has been found in violation of H.R. 3261, SOPA and has been removed.”
In an email to The Phillipian, Tailor Dortona ’12 wrote that seeing the changed profile pictures and status updates about the bills, she “had never seen such an uproar from youth over a piece of legislature.”
Greg Zhang ‘12 said, “I think [the protest] is worth any mild inconvenience that it could cause,” citing the fact that several senators had dropped their support for PIPA.
Katherine Lee ’13 tried accessing Wikipedia on Wednesday in order to quickly clarify something for a history project and became “thoroughly enraged” when she was stopped by the blackout page.
Wikipedia also chose to take all their English-language content offline for 24 hours, eliminating access to more than 3.8 million English-language articles.
Users were instead directed to a darkened page that told them to “imagine a world without free knowledge” and urged them to contact their state representatives, providing a tool for users to enter their zipcode and find their representatives’ contact information.
The only English-language entries left accessible were the pages on SOPA and PIPA.
Wikipedia wrote in a message on its site, “Our purpose here isn’t to make it completely impossible for people to read Wikipedia, and it’s okay for you to circumvent the blackout. We just want to make sure you see our message.”
Eric Meller ‘12 said, however, “The whole point of Wikipedia being down is that they’re trying to stop [the bills] from getting passed… People, if they like Wikipedia and they’ve been using it for however many years, should realize that one day of protesting is better than the bills getting passed and maybe not being able to use Wikipedia ever again.”
On Google’s home page, a black censor bar covered the Google logo, which linked to a petition urging Congress to turn down the bills. According to The Los Angeles Times, 4.5 million people signed Google’s petition on Wednesday.
The home pages of Mozilla Firefox, classifieds site Craigslist, publishing platform WordPress and Wired Magazine were among many other sites that chose to “go dark” in protest.
Popular tech blog BoingBoing and social news site Reddit blacked out their home pages and also left messages urging users to sign anti-SOPA and PIPA petitions and to contact their local representatives.
The site explained, “SOPA and PIPA are a threat to Wikipedia in many ways. For example, in its current form, SOPA would require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn’t host infringing content. Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline.”
Meller woke up to Facebook comments about the blackout. He said, “A bunch of websites I tried to go onto were blacked out, everything from Mozilla Firefox’s homepage to snopes.com. Reddit was blacked out this morning.”
Kiara Valdez ’12 learned of the web-wide protest Wednesday morning after logging into blog platform Tumblr, which gave its users the option of blacking out their own blogs in support of the protest.
Valdez said, “[The bills are] so hypocritical because just a few months ago, we were talking critically about China and how they censored things, and now all of a sudden we want to censor our Internet.”
Zhang said, “For those who are complaining [the blackout] is an inconvenience, it’s for a good cause and it’s getting the message out there.”
“While the bills are presented as anti-piracy, they’re as much censorship bills as anti-piracy bills. There are better ways to go about anti-piracy. Although the congressmen supporting it may have good intentions, a lot of them may not know exactly what they’re talking about,” Zhang said.
According to Forbes.com, so far six senators, former co-sponsors of PIPA, have withdrawn their backing of the bill after the Wednesday protest.
As of 3PM on January 18, four members of the House of Representatives have stopped supporting SOPA, according to Bloomberg News.
Valdez said that she thought the blackout protest effectively raised awareness about the bills. “So many people didn’t know about [PIPA] and it’s going to be decided on soon.”
The Senate is scheduled to vote on PIPA on January 24 and the House Judiciary Committee will continue its markup of SOPA in February, according to the committee’s website.