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The message from the Wikipedia Blackout: Please leave the Internet alone

WMF SOPA boiler room

I’ve had ten hours of sleep in the last three days, and I just ate my first proper meal since Saturday. My inbox is clogged with messages I may never read. I am tired, but happy.

The Wikipedia blackout is over. Our goal was to raise awareness about SOPA and PIPA and to encourage readers to make their voices heard — and we’ve been successful on both counts. More than eight million people used our look-up tool to find their elected representatives, and millions more made their voices heard on social media. Thousands of journalists wrote news stories featuring the Wikipedia blackout screen.

We’ve made history together, all of us. And I think it’s important we understand what’s happened here, because the ground has just shifted under our feet.

Journalists see this as a conflict between old media and new media. They are wrong.

They see it that way because it fits with how things normally work.

“Right now, if you want effective legislation around your industry, then you need to pay the right lobbyists, make the right campaign contributions, and write the right legislation at the right time in order to get it out of Washington,” says Clay Johnson, formerly of the Sunlight Foundation. “If you had to objectively pick the winning team in Washington, pick the team with deep pockets and great lobbyists, not the team with community organizers and signed petitions. … It sucks, but those are the rules of the game.”

That’s precisely why MPAA chair and former longtime senator Chris Dodd called the blackout an “abuse of power,” and characterized it as “technology business interests resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into corporate pawns.” He can only see the issue as a clash of moneyed interests, because that’s how things normally have worked.

That’s why NPR, the Associated Press, Fox News – all label this fight as Hollywood versus Silicon Valley. It’s why stories like this one from Bloomberg compare how much money television, movie and music companies are spending in Washington, versus what Google and Facebook are spending. People are imagining that post-blackout we are playing the same game, just with new participants.

That’s not what this is.

There’s a lovely Clay Shirky talk floating around the Internet today. In it, Clay says what’s at risk with SOPA and PIPA isn’t just websites, or website owners: it’s our ability to share things with one another, as individual human beings. We are the people, Clay says, that SOPA and PIPA aim to police, because the biggest producers of content on the Internet are not Google and Yahoo. It’s us.

We know that’s true, because the people who led the blackout yesterday weren’t the CEOs of Google or Yahoo or Facebook or Twitter. It wasn’t the Wikimedia Foundation. The blackout was led by ordinary Internet users. At its centre were people like Osarius and SiPlus and FT2 and Titoxd and Fluffernutter. These are the people at the forefront of online content creation.

Wikipedia’s involvement in the fight against SOPA proves this wasn’t about powerful interest groups, and it wasn’t about money. Wikipedia is operated, and not controlled, by a non-profit — it’s got no corporate interests to protect and it doesn’t make any money from piracy or copyright infringement. It’s written by ordinary people. Reddit is a bunch of people sharing links and talking about them. Metafilter is the same. Tumblr, Craigslist, the Cheezburger network, The Oatmeal, 4chan, identi.ca. These are not mega-corporations.

The Internet has been giving ordinary people access to the means of production for more than fifteen years. Sometimes we use it to create pictures of cute cats. Sometimes it’s the world’s largest encyclopedia. Sometimes, we bring down corrupt regimes.

What happened yesterday is that around the world, Internet users found their voice — fighting back against people who wanted to threaten their freedoms. It is true that copyright infringement poses a problem, and it’s reasonable that those affected want to get their problem solved. But their problem is not more important than the ability of ordinary people to express themselves, to share and to learn.

It sounded today like Congress is starting to come back to technology firms and their users and ask what they want. What compromises to SOPA and PIPA would be acceptable. Would OPEN work. Do they need to draw up something new.

The message of the Wikipedia blackout, and the other responses to SOPA and PIPA, wasn’t “Let’s talk about how we can combat online copyright infringement.” It was: “Don’t hurt the Internet. It’s too important. Let us do our work. Let us learn and create and share.”

I want to thank everyone involved with the blackout. Below is a quick list of people I worked with, or saw working. If you helped but you’re not named here, please consider yourself thanked :-)

In completely random order: Dario Taraborelli, Lori Phillips, Moka Pantages, Nicholas Bashour, Luke Faraone, Jan Ainali, Puki, André Savik, Dcoetzee, Vituzzu, Stacey Merrick, Dan Rosenthal, Michael Snow, Sumana Harihareswara, Wikitanvir, Jim Redmond, Kaganer, PeterSymonds, Mikołka, ZeaForUs, Spiritia, Iliev, Anubhab91, Ali, Haidar Khan, Joan manel, Davidpar, Cameta, Mormegil, Okino, Sir48, Giftpflanze, Rbmj, Tecsie, BreadMaker, Antonorsi, Mariadelcarmenpatricia, Huji, Tommikovala, Nikerabbit, Lamiot, Seb35, Zetud, Amire80, Rekp, איש המרק, Eranb, עידן ד, Trần Nguyễn Minh Huy, Itzike, Vibhijain, Ruy Pugliesi, Roberta F., Tgr, Kelly Kay, Pagony, Alensha, William Surya Permana, Gombang, Gregorovius, Civvì, Gnumarcoo, Austroungarika, Miya, Whym, Takot, Melberg, Omshivaprakash, Idh0854, Freebiekr, Diagramma Della Verita, RajeshPandey, Mathonius, Romaine, Mwpnl, Whaledad, Wpedzich, Sp5uhe, Przemub, Ency, Przykuta, Teles, Vitor Mazuco, Lvova, OC Ripper, Euriditi, Maduixa, Wikiwind, Јованвб, A1, Олег-літред, Violetbonmua, Prenn, Cheers!, Sameboat, Tbayer (WMF), OhanaUnited, Tom Morris, Wdchk, Sarah Stierch, Risker, Billinghurst, NuclearWarfare, Jimmy Wales, Orionist, Ryan Kaldari, John Du Hart, Aaron Schulz, Kat Walsh, Cherian Tinu, Mike Godwin, Jim Burger, David Gerard, Johnuniq, James Forrester, Prodego, Fluffernutter, Dana Isokawa, Fae, Andrew Lih, Brandon Harris, Jeremyb, Michelle Paulson, DeltaQuad, Pete Forsyth, Fetchcomms, Heather Walls, Rachel Farrand, CMBJ, Erik Moeller, Fifelfoo, James Alexander, Itzik Edri, Katie Horn, Iván Martínez, Matthias Schindler, Ben Hartshorne, Jon Davies, Anthere, Slobodan Jakoski, Victorgrigas, Dimce, Jerry-Yuyu, Patricia Morales, Stephen LaPorte, Varnent, Lennart Guldbrandsson, Neil Kandalgaonkar, Greg Maxwell, Ian Baker, Jeandré, Howie Fung, Ryan Faulkner, Beatriz Busaniche, Philippe Beaudette, Ziko van Dijk, Oliver Keyes, Dimce Grozdanoski, Keegan, André, Guillaume Paumier, Maggie Dennis, Mentifisto, Phoebe Ayers, Arne Klempert, Mike Peel, Gorilla Warfare, Geoff Brigham, Swarm, Peter Gehres, Megan Hernandez, Leslie Harms, Tomasz Finc, Pretzels, Jay Walsh, Whenaxis, Liberaler Humanist, Sam Klein, Andrew Gray, Fifelfoo, Zack Exley, Katie Filbert, Victor Vasiliev, Guy Chapman, Avi, Kenneth/MD, Stu West, Harry, Ryan Lane, Josh Lim, Matthew Roth, Richard Symons, Gayle Karen Young, Yuvaraj Pandian, Evangeline Han, Milos Rancic, James Hare, Adrienne Alix, Samat, Tomasz Ganicz, FT2, Alessio Guidetti, Galileo Vidoni, David Richfield, Alison Wheeler, Siska Doviana, Erlend Bjoertvedt, Анастасия Львова, Steven Walling, Casey Brown, Tim Starling, Patrick Reilly, Arthur Richards, Asaf Bartov, Alolita Sharma, CT Woo – and of course, the 1,800 English Wikipedians who made the decision to black out the site.

I am happy to add new names to this list — if you want to nominate anyone, just say so in the comments :-)

Thanks also to the sister projects that chose to support the enWP blackout with their own protests: the Albanian Wikipedia, Arabic Wikipedia, Bulgarian Wikipedia, Catalan Wikipedia, Chinese Wikipedia, Croatian Wikipedia, Dutch Wikipedia, Georgian Wikipedia, German Wikipedia, Greek Wikipedia, Japanese Wikipedia, Korean Wikipedia, Indonesian Wikipedia, Italian Wikipedia, Norwegian Wikipedia, Portuguese Wikipedia, Russian Wikipedia, Serbian Wikipedia, Spanish Wikipedia, Swedish Wikipedia, Ukranian Wikipedia, Vietnamese Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

Sue Gardner
Executive Director, Wikimedia Foundation

24 Responses to “The message from the Wikipedia Blackout: Please leave the Internet alone”

    1 2
  1. This law only serves to control information, manipulate people and censor the net!! We must stop SOPA

    Sorry my poor english

  2. Do you have an email list that you send out updates to your blog that I can subscribe to?. If not, I will check back often to checkout the updates.

  3. Talles says:

    velieve? I meant believe.

  4. Talles says:

    Please go against ACTA too, some velieve it’s as bad as SOPA/PIPA.
    article link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Counterfeiting_Trade_Agreement

    from gamasutra, on http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/39797/Game_developers_cautiously_celebrate_victory_over_SOPAPIPA.php:

    “GOG.com, owned by Polish developer CD Projeckt RED, explained that while the industry certainly has cause to celebrate, a number of impending laws still threaten to limit online freedoms all over the world, and the game industry will need to remain on constant alert, regardless of what happens within U.S. borders.

    ‘While this is definitely a victory for free speech, it’s worth noting that here in Europe, ACTA [the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement] is very likely to pass this week and it has virtually all of the same flaws that SOPA or PIPA did. So while we’re pleased about the news from across the pond, I’d say that vigilance is important, because this fight isn’t over yet for you or for us,’ the company said.”

  5. Sue says:

    I added Lori — thanks slowking! I’m not going to add Daily Kos or MoveOn though, Brian Dell, just because my goal here is to thank individuals not groups. Happy to add any individuals though — please nominate in the comments :-) Thanks.

  6. 37+yearsIT says:

    The people have spoken…

    Could I suggest a further action by the people not electing these kind of SOPA and PIPA clowns for a next term in congress or the house of representatives?

  7. No se puede permitir que también saquen beneficios económicos desde Internet..Internet es libreeeeeeeee!! Es el único espacio donde toda la Humanidad puede expresarse en las diferentes materias,artes,opiniones..comunicarse entre unos a otros. Hay un GRAN ESFUERZO por parte de todos en cambiar ” la mierda de este mundo” que otros han hecho y nos han dejado de legado a las nuevas generaciones! No se puede permitir ya tanto ABUSO!! Nos roban dinero en todas las tracsaciones que hacemos en este sistema de cosas.. y ahora quieren también sacar tajada por Internet..YA ESTÁ BIEN!!! QUE OS JODAN!

  8. tarekryan says:

    Thou great star! What would be thy happiness if thou hadst not those
    for whom thou shinest!

  9. slowking says:

    i nominate Lori Phillips for her essay “Wikipedia: The Neutrality Paradox?” http://hstryqt.tumblr.com/post/16064147845/wikipedia-the-neutrality-paradox#comment-415531077

  10. Brian Dell says:

    How about a shout out for Daily Kos? I mean it was the day right after Daily Kos announced its “activism plan” on Dec 11 that Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative was launched and it was just two days after that that Wikimedia general counsel Geoff Brigham directed the Wikipedia community back to the Daily Kos’ “activism plan” as part of his “Call to action”. That same day that Wikipedia’s SOPA initiative page linked to the Daily Kos, the Daily Kos linked to the poll Jimmy Wales’ had kicked off. Isn’t that how this whole thing got rolling?

    And what about Moveon.org? Is it not the case that Zack’s old stomping ground advised its readers that they could find “more information on how to take action [by] visit[ing] Wikipedia’s SOPA Initiative page”?

  11. Once, the internet was the plaything of the USA Department of Defense. Then it moved into academe and commerce. Now, the internet is the tool of people all around the world; every minute of each day and from every country around the globe people use it to freely communicate with each other. To share news, photographs, information, *their life*.

    The internet is not the private property of one country, or a single guiding mind. It was created by many many people and is for the benefit of all human kind.

    And any time it may be threatened again it will be all human kind who will respond:
    “KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OUR INTERNET!”

  12. Mike Godwin says:

    Protests are by their nature inconvenient. Also, by their nature, they are sometimes necessary.

  13. This was surely one of the most inspiring moments for me since first “getting on the web” in 1990! As a long time Wikipedian it was nothing short of empowering, inspiring, and moving. Thanks to everyone who participated – things have changed because of what took place on Wednesday!!!

  14. Andrew Aikman says:

    I am wondering why the movie, music and other companies want to make everyone else do their job of finding and charging copyright infringement? Should it not be upto them to find and prove people are breaking copyright laws, I say yes it is. If they want people at the sites that they feel are breaching rules etc, why don’t they hire their own people and then ask the companies if they can come and audit their sites. If they find a breach of copyright they can then ask the provider to track down the site owner if charges need to be laid at a cost to the copyright holder. The copyright holder can then add those charges to any fines that should be applied to the law breaker. But these huge media companies that make more money that the sites that maybe hosting the files and feel they shouldn’t have to pay to find law breakers. They need to start using their profits to add new ways they can find law breakers and quit being so lazy and getting others to do their dirty work. Also just because one person uploads a file to a site does not make the owner of the site liable as most will remove any bad content when asked by these media groups.

    These media groups love when people talk about or share teaser clips for things but under SOPA and PIPA that would become illegal as the person sharing it would not be asking the media companies if it was ok and for written permission. If these baddly written bills do become laws I would hope that more servers start popping up in countries that have no extradition with the USA. All these bills will do is cause massive fear that anything anyone does is copyright infringement, do we all quit speaking because we may use a line that was in a movie or a song? Maybe the USA is moving to a communist state or a dictatorship as that is what these laws are doing. Also since when should one government be able to tell another what to do, or a company that operates in another country, I see this in some laws that come into Canada because the USA forces our government to follow their lead.

    All I can say is media groups need to grow a pair and police what they need to and pay to either make better copy protection or ways to find the law breakers with out having everyone do their dirty work. They also need to bring prices down to reasonable costs and maybe no one would need to break laws.

  15. LawIsGreek says:

    The question is that will the new law snatch my bread and butter or NOT. We should wait for a little over a month more, because whatever the law will turn out to be and have some mature, realistic implications before jumping into conclusions.

  16. Kim Andersen says:

    The point regarding lobbyists and pockets is not true. You need to be organised, aggressive yet you also need to be reasonable and able to talk to the politicians as well as provide them with information they might need. This money focus has no merit, and has been disconfirmed by Baumgartner.

  17. FT2 says:

    * minor correction: 8 million, not 4

  18. Filceolaire says:

    Can I add my thanks to all of the people listed above and to everyone else who worked to get the message out and to all the editors interviewed about this on television and radio and twitter and at watercoolers accross the world.

    Once again we trusted people to act as they saw fit and it succeeded beyond the anything I had imagined.

    RIAA CEO Cary H. Sherman said “It’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform”
    I guess he learned yesterday that he and his pal Rupert Murdoch don’t own the platform yet. Lets not let Congress hand them that control.

  19. FT2 says:

    Tomorrow we will edit, you can look up articles, and with luck, two bad acts will be withdrawn. Today, a line needed to be drawn.

    The community of the internet counts. There is a “We, the people”. It’s the four million Americans who looked up their congressperson in one day, on one site. It’s 162 million unique visitors and 1/4 of a million tweets per hour for hour after hour. It’s the individuals and online communities that makes almost every internet giant an American giant – Google. Facebook. Twitter. And our home, Wikipedia, the largest non-profit website, and a community so zealous in being neutral and unbiased it refuses ads or pay for editing, even though they would be worth billions. That is “We the people” and they said one thing: No to SOPA and PIPA style laws.

    Our editors receive no pay. They monetarize no ads. They edit to help people. But they are editorially neutral – fiercely so. They answer to no lobby and to nothing when they edit, except editorial policy and the desire to spread free knowledge. We visit Wikipedia not to chat but to help the world, and we become quite expert at examining source material – including proposed laws. Two thousand editors considered these laws, considered our policy of neutrality. and they – unpaid, unlobbied – concluded with over 90% support that SOPA and PIPA were very dangerous, and would harm any spread of free knowledge so much that it was a matter of survival for any site like ours. We and they hoped the world would understand but the stand had to be made.

    Authors at Wikipedia ask the creative industries and other supporters to pause and think. We live in the same world where repression of free speech kills and the internet has helped with that; when we socialize with family and friends we use the same online communities. We despise piracy. But destroying the golden goose that makes this country great in this century, isn’t the way to do it. Withdraw these bills. Treat web communities and their experts as allies. Work with us to forge a legal fair framework for this global world.

    To friends, allies, and all who cared, just thank you. We have a wider charitable mission than just authoring articles. We aim to foster free neutral knowledge, ad free and accessible to all. We see our work helping women in India, villages in the Amazon, students in California, researchers, doctors, lawyers, educators, people the world over using us – and we let them gladly. Sometimes one cannot be neutral about ones survival. To survive we have to also care for the free knowledge and mass collaboration ecosystem which makes this and other social miracles possible.

    That is what this community decision has been is about.

  20. Brian Dell says:

    “It’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform”
    - RIAA CEO Cary H. Sherman

    Some of tried, Mr Sherman. But while Sue Gardner was editing Wikipedia’s message to the world, the rest of us ordinary Wikipedia editors without Wikimedia Foundation accounts were locked out.

    I guess, like you observe, she owned it and the rest of us didn’t.