Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thoughts about SOPA/PIPA protest

Many of you will have heard about the one day "strike" being held today by some websites, to protest against the proposed legislation SOPA (The Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (The Protect IP Act). You can find out more about this on the SOPA Strike website. The most publicised action has been the blackout of the English-language Wikipedia site (although not its mobile version).
I do think that these bills are worrying, so broadly support the campaign. However, the protest actions have also raised some worrying issues.
I have been ill at home with a nasty bug for the last couple of days, and not checking my social media like I usually do. I was a bit disturbed to find out when I logged in, just now, that Flickr, as a protest, has been allowing members to block not just their own pictures, but other people's. This has a limit of 10 pictures that can be blocked, and you can "opt out from any photo" of yours being blocked - still I feel uncomfortable that Flickr is allowing other people to block my content. The opt-out clause is all very well, but if like me you have been out of it for a day or so you aren't aware that you NEED to opt out.
Some people who have made significant contributions to Wikipedia have also debated the ethics of an editorial collective making this decision about content created by a whole lot of other people. One of the issues that concerns me about SOPA/PIPA is the way in which US legislation can affect people in other countries (like me), but today also shows that actions by those who are "well intentioned" can also deprive people of access and rights.
The discussions about how companies are taking decisions based on commercial issues (e.g. likely protests from advertisers) are also interesting. As SilverPanda commented on a post at the Verge, "Wikipedia doesn’t have ads so it can do whatever it wants."
Altogether a day that gives someone like me, who has a lot of content in "the cloud" (including my university email account...) pause for thought.
Photo by Sheila Webber: Graduation Hall, Sheffield University, January 2012

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