A day without Wikipedia... 

click to enlarge ANNETTE SHAFF / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JAN 18: Wikipedia, the largest collaborative online free encyclopedia began a 24-hour "blackout" in protest against SOPA on January 18, 2012 in San Francisco, Ca.
  • Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com
  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JAN 18: Wikipedia, the largest collaborative online free encyclopedia began a 24-hour "blackout" in protest against SOPA on January 18, 2012 in San Francisco, Ca.

The protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) got a little more serious last week with several websites voluntarily going dark to protest the legislation — specifically, far-reaching powers that would enable the U.S. justice department to block access to websites that allow user-generated content if any of that content potentially violates copyright. Ostensibly the legislation is aimed at torrent sites and people re-streaming content without permission, usually for commercial gain, but it's broad enough that it could apply to things like Facebook and Google+ posts, YouTube videos, Twitter tweets and Wikipedia articles that may quote copyrighted materials.

The most prominent website taking part in the blackout was Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that pretty much represents the sum of human knowledge at this point in history (with a few errors and omissions, as you might expect from a non-profit, volunteer-driven repository of knowledge). Upwards of 100 million people use Wikipedia every single day, but instead users on Jan. 18 were greeted with articles about SOPA, PIPA and the general state of open source.

The joke is that the collective IQ of Internet users dropped about 30 points on Jan. 18, and that might be accurate considering the very real phenomenon of people outsourcing their memory to the technology. For example, once upon a time you probably knew by heart the phone numbers of all your friends and relatives, but these days most people program the number into their phones once and that's it.

Other participants in the blackout include Craigslist and Reddit, while many others sites dedicated their front pages to SOPA and PIPA. The American political site Daily Kos did a phony redacted thing that blacked out sections of text to protest censorship.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm opposed to SOPA and PIPA as they're currently worded. There needs to be exceptions made for social networks and databases like Wikipedia, and of course copyright and fair use rules need to be updated in a way that reflects the technology and the intent of users.

However, even if opponents do defeat SOPA and PIPA it won't be the end of this. The creative industries are driven to stop the bleeding caused by piracy, and won't stop until something is legislated.

Because most of the companies and content providers are based in the U.S., this legislation will impact Canada as well. We will also be affected by ACTA — the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement that will, among other things, allow customs officials access your phone/tablet/laptop and search for copyrighted material — and fine you for every song, movie, game, ebook, etc. that you don't legally own the rights to.

Stirring the pot further, there's a call on the Internet to make March 2012 "Black March" boycott where people won't buy any music, see any movies, or download any games or content to protest against the companies that are in favour of SOPA.

There's been a bit of a blowback over this concept, not the least of which is the fact that not all of the companies that would be affected by the boycott are supporting SOPA and PIPA. In fact, many are vehemently opposed — or, like Electronic Arts, are publicly opposed while remaining a member of Entertainment Software Association, which is for the legislation.

The other argument against Black March is that it will only prove the need for SOPA because it doesn't extend the boycott to pirating or illegally downloading the things that people are supposed to stop buying.

If Black March catches on then creative industries will see their revenues plummet while torrents and P2P traffic will increase, creating a rock solid case for SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and every other piece of crap copyright legislation that gives government the right to censor the web. Every American politician on the fence right now will look at the data from March and have their mind made up.

The reality is that the days of piracy are coming to a close. It's sad, I know — it was a pretty good decade where you could get anything you wanted for free, but the technology exists today that could stop all the downloading tomorrow, once governments find the political will to use it. With creative industries suffering and hemorrhaging money and jobs, piracy can no longer be ignored.

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