Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blacking out

Welcome to Wikipedia today.

If you used your phone to get on Wikipedia today, that's what you saw. If you got on it using your computer, it looked like this:

Wikipedia, Google and other new media companies all blacked out to some degree on Jan. 18 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate. These are both acts that Hollywood and other entertainment media producers have championed to stop people from illegally downloading music, movies and TV shows; businesses say if these bills passed as is they would severely inhibit, and in some cases shut down businesses that operate online. Which is pretty much everyone these days.

Before I go any further, I'll make two points: 1) I think you should pay for the products you consume, be it a sandwich in a grocery store or in a movie. Not doing so is thievery — or piracy, in this case; and 2) both of these acts are far more technical than Google, Wikipedia, Slate, Orrin Hatch or I to fully explain. I don't know many of the details. I will agree that they overreach in an attempt to fix what may or may not be a problem.

My third and most poignant point is this: I am so proud of the American people right now.

In the last two weeks, I've been invited to sign a petition on, I've seen Facebook pleas — and not just from my journalism friends — and I've sat back and smiled as politicians realized this was a really bad move (including one local boy). For the time being, it looks like neither bill is going anywhere.

Which means it's time for the American people, instead of patting ourselves on the back, to start demanding more from our government. Yes, it's great that the people WE elected to represent US backed off when they realized how angry WE were, but it would have been nice if they'd asked earlier. Or if we'd told them earlier. Or if they knew we'd be pissed and so didn't do it. Or if we'd elected people who were less swayable by Hollywood's glitz, glamour and greenbacks.

It would be nice if our legislators weren't surprised when their electorate actually knew what was going on and had an opinion about it. Then they might actually start representing us, not Hollywood, or Goldman Sachs or Ford Motor Company.

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