Tired of getting to Wikipedia content by looking at the cached versions on Google and other workarounds? Relax, it was for a good cause.
Wikipedia’s day offline for its English language content (many non-English Wikipedias followed suit) was annoying to some, especially when thousands of other sites also went dark. But the 24-hour blackout inspired some serious global concerns about the U.S. and two of its efforts to combat online piracy, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
Both affect freedom of expression as well as piracy. Fears abounded that the U.S. could effectively censor the Internet like China, Iran and Syria already do. That’s because SOPA could force content providers outside the U.S. to follow U.S. laws, be blocked by search engines like Google, or pulled offline entirely, particularly if they are registered in the U.S.
“The goal in many ways of SOPA is to reach beyond the borders of the United States,” Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, told The Vancouver Sun. “It’s Canadian sites and sites around the world that would find themselves a target for these kinds of actions.”
On the other hand, SOPA could mean lots of cutting edge tech jobs in Canada, if U.S. entrepreneurs flee its provisions.
A number of German sites also went dark against SOPA, and to rally critics against a proposed European Union law with similar provisions, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
SOPA, currently on hold by order of the Obama Administration, targets websites accused of sharing pirated information, though critics are concerned that it could target legitimate websites as well. PIPA targets blocking foreign websites accused of piracy.
In South Africa, where many firms use U.S.-based Internet hosting services, there are concerns about its impact on business. “If I don’t like your site, I could suggest to your ISP that you’re hosting illegal content,” resulting in the site being shut down pending investigation, technology consultant Simon Dingle told the Mail & Guardian.
Such a situation already exists in Spain, which, under pressure from the U.S., has passed a SOPA-like bill of its own. Spain was purportedly threatened with facing U.S. trade sanctions if it did not pass the law.
Sweden veered the other way, as the government recognized ‘Kopimisim’ as a religion, giving people who copy and share files online religious protections. However, the law does not protect the people in this religion from copyright infringement.
Wikipedia’s size guaranteed that its vacation day would stoke political debate. It also got some results: by mid-day in the U.S., three of the sponors of SOPA and PIPA had pulled their support from the bill.