From the Editors
Top Stories for the Week of January 16 - 20, 2012
If you experienced numerous blackouts this week, and you aren't Linsday Lohan, that was the Great Web Blackout of 2012! Wikipedia and Reddit joined in with dozens of other sites that painted their front doors black to protest piracy-targeting legislation (the SOPA and PIPA bills) that also could limit online freedom! Poynter quickly prepared a terrific gallery of the blackened pages. The bills, which could become US law, attack offshore piracy by potentially making it legal for the government to shut down a US site if any part of it links to a supposed illicit source of protected intellectual property. Forbes Tech analogizes: "It would be a bit like requiring the manager of a flea market to shut down the entire market because some of the merchants were selling counterfeit goods. "It's kind of an Internet death penalty," CNET's Privacy Inc. says in its helpful FAQ. "It's bad," Gawker reported, while also offering a workaround for slipping past Wikipedia's Wednesday blackwall in case you couldn't wait a day. "The internet - yes, THE ENTIRE INTERNET - is mad about SOPA because the bill overreaches in trying to destroy what they dramatically call 'rogue' websites. Some of its provisions, like forcing search engines like Google to delist foreign sites deemed dedicated to piracy, sounds suspiciously like something China would do." Pop Culture Brain offered an open letter opposing SOPA from artists including Neil Gaiman and Trent Reznor. Flavorwire presented a severely redacted version of that letter.
Some of the usual suspects were clear where they stood. "January 18, 2012, will still be talked about decades from now," reported Torrentfreak, a blog dedicated to news about the BitTorrent software that's widely used to rip off movies and music. But not everyone joined in. Stephen Totilo, a honcho at Kotaku, explained SOPA's threat to the video game industry ("SOPA is miserably vague in so many ways") but also why the big gamer blog didn't dress black on Wednesday. Basically: "I believe it is our job to cover protest movements but not to be part of them."
The Oatmeal went with a black background and a funny anti-establishment cartoon -- which is not very different from what the Oatmeal does on a regular day. Craigslist didn't shut its lights entirely but had a black landing page with accusations of corporate clamminess ("corporate paymasters, keep those clammy hands off the Internet!"). Web Pro News reported: "The SOPA landing page displays for a minimum of 10 seconds, after which you can continue on to the normal Craigslist site. You can then go about your normal buying and selling for the day." Take that, paymasters. Notably Google, Twitter, Facebook, and the Huffington Post didn't black out -- interesting considering how much their growth was built on links to outside content. "Most sites didn't even go as far as Wikipedia's more-or-less blackout," Open Source says. "The most popular version seemed to be the Google version - black out your logo, or put up a splash screen that mentioned opposition to SOPA."
Of course, the industry organizations charged with preventing piracy did not go gently into the darkness. The Motion Picture Association of American called the blackouts "stunts that punish their users," according to Deadline. Techdirt responds: "This is hilarious only in that we're talking about the MPAA here, who is famous for abusing its powers ... The MPAA - as per usual, remains totally and completely tone deaf to what's going on." A communications exec for the Recording Industry Assocation of American got charred by some when he tweeted "After Wikipedia blackrout, a student today is doing original research and getting his/her facts straight." Gizmodo was pretty steamed about that: "Just about the most asinine thing we've read all day. Way to totally trivialize an issue that millions of people care passionately about." Really! Blackrout? Have enough respect to spell it right!
Do did the protests accomplish anything? Maybe, kinda. Before Wednesday was done, the White House blog reported that "a petition asking President Obama to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) got 51,689 signatures, while 52,096 people signed the 'Stop the E-PARSITE Act' petition." TechCrunch reported that some of the sponsors of the SOA bill were "abandoning ship" (another popular pastime lately). And not letting a good opportunity for geekitude pass, Fred Benenson prepared an artsy-looking Cytoscape spatial visualization of all the Twitter buzz about SOPA. We now return you to your normal web programming.