Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian is planning to shut down its Web site on Jan. 18 in protest of SOPA and will be appearing at a hearing on Capitol Hill to address the issue. Meanwhile, Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales has also been outspoken about his thoughts against the bill. We spoke to him over email about the possibilities and repercussions of it being passed, and the possibility of a strike to protest SOPA.
What is Wikipedia doing to speak out against SOPA?
The community and the Foundation are watching the issue closely and considering the possibility of doing a "strike" to protest against SOPA. I feel that the interests of a narrow segment of one industry are being placed above the interests of the general public and the traditional American values of freedom of speech, transparency, and openness.
If there is a strike the goal will be to inform and education the general public about what is going on, and to have them demand a NO vote from their congressional representatives.
Why is this such an important issue to get involved with right now?
This bill is the worst Internet legislation I have ever seen seriously proposed in the United States. In many ways it would set up the machinery to put us on par with China in terms of direct censorship of the Internet using DNS filtering and blocking. It's outrageous that we would even consider this at a time when the US is also investing in support for tools to circumvent just this kind of control in oppressive countries.
How will a bill like this effect our daily lives? What will happen if this passes?
It is difficult to estimate the immediate impact. The leading players on the Internet will survive, most of us anyway, because we are big enough that we can find a way to absorb the costs. For Wikipedia, if our costs are dramatically increased to put into place the censorship controls that this legislation may demand, it will cut into our budget for our work in assisting the growth of Wikipedia in the languages of the developing world.
But what I personally think is more important is the impact that this will have longer term on innovation. Small start-ups do not have the resources to combat frivolous actions to shut them down, and so they will be unable to offer platforms for the public to collaborate. The US will begin to lose the lead on Internet innovation to countries who are putting into place thoughtful policies that deal with problems of piracy without breaking the fundamental principles of the Internet.
What will it take for this not to pass? Will people calling their congresspeople really make a difference?
What are you encouraging people to do now?
A handful of people calling their congresspeople will not have a huge impact. Hundreds of thousands of letters, calls, and visits to local Congressional offices will have a big impact.
Right now, a handful of Senators and Representatives who are in the pocket of Hollywood are driving this forward without listening to thoughtful amendments and protections for freedom of speech put forward by other members of Congress, Internet technology experts, Internet businesses, and the general public.
But the wider membership of the House and Senate aren't necessarily controlled by Hollywood and they are certainly aware of the power of the voting public. In this era in which dictatorships are being toppled by ordinary people living under repressive regimes, it is not at all difficult to imagine how we the people of the Internet are going to organize and lead an effort to get rid of every last one of them who votes for this atrocity.