SOPA, PIPA, Blackouts and how to access Wikipedia (If you really want to)

Wikipedia BlackoutSo you tried to use Wikipedia this morning and you were greeted with this blackout screen and wondered what has happened? You’ll probably have heard much talk about this from bloggers and Twitter users, and perhaps even through mainstream media such as TV and radio. 

There are a large number of websites that are going dark today in protest against SOPA or the Stop Online Piracy Act bill. Why? Surely online piracy is wrong, and surely any bill to stop such an activity should be a good thing?

I’ll be honest, online piracy really bugs me. I’ve spent thousands buying software licences over the years- I just dread to think how much! I remember shuddering at the cost of buying Adobe’s Creative Suite package, and being really annoyed to see that it was possible to get a copy for free from one of those dreaded torrent sites.

What SOPA is supposed to do

SOPA is a proposed bill in the US House of Representives authored by Rep. Lamar Smith that aims to stop online piracy. It is wide reaching and had included DNS blocking of sites (removing or blocking sites from the main domain name servers round the world). Domain Name Servers convert a website address or domain name into the IP address of the server that hosts a website. An IP address is kind of like a server or computer’s phone number- it is the special number that identifies every device connected to the internet.

This may well be a bill being considered in the United States, but make no mistake- this affects the whole world and the entire internet. It does look, however, that the DNS blocking section of the bill may be removed by Rep. Smith as a result of the backlash. Even without the DNS blocking section, the SOPA bill would have the power to block or shut down any website that was accused of having infringed copyright. 

What’s PIPA?

No, we’re not talking about Kate Middleton’s sister, PIPA is SOPA’s sister bill- which is under consideration in the United State’s Senate. It stands for Protect “IP” Act. The bill aims to stop copyright infringement and defines this as “distribution of illegal copies, counterfeit goods, or anti-digital rights management technology”.

In particular, the bill aims to: remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order. In addition, it must delete all hyperlinks to the offending “Internet site”. (read more here)

There has been a similar backlash from many internet users with regards to PIPA. For further information you can see Wikipedia’s pages on PIPA and SOPA which are intact despite the blackout.

Surely SOPA and PIPA are good news. Piracy is Wrong!

As I said above, I completely agree that online piracy is wrong. It REALLY makes me angry, especially when I’ve spent my money on paying for the content. However, do we really want such wide-reaching powers to be in the hands of the US government- to be able to shut down sites without proper legal processes? That’s the argument that many of the internet sites today are concerned about. Sure piracy is wrong, but how are you going to police it? Would You Tube be shut down? How about Google, Wikipedia, blogs and so many other sites out there that have user submitted content. The Daily Telegraph article, What is SOPA? puts it like this –

“The most controversial provisions of SOPA would force websites that carry user-generated material, such as Wikipedia, to impose new restrictions on posting or constantly monitor activity, it’s claimed. Under current laws if websites remove pirated content when they are notified by the copyright holder they are not liable for damages.” 

This article by Michelle at TechieMinx is a great, easy to understand summary about what’s been going on- do read! For further reading the Mashable article on Why SOPA is dangerous is worth a read and this article by Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land Why The Web Is Going Dark Over SOPA & PIPA

Of course not everyone is saying that websites taking the blackout stance is necessarily the correct one- Jesse Stay posed an interesting thought on this Google+ post“I’m not saying I’m for SOPA (I’m not), but doesn’t Wikipedia’s support against SOPA now make it a biased news source? Doesn’t that go against the principles of Wikipedia?”. An interesting thought, what do you think?

Which Sites are blacking out?

Google Censortwitpic censorA fairly comprehensive list appears on this Mashable article. In particular the list includes Wikipedia, Reddit,, TwitPic and O’Reilly. Notably Twitter has not joined the blackout despite being against the bills, and similarly Google, although they have added a link entitled “Please Don’t Censor the Web“.

takeaction from Google

[UPDATE] Google has now blacked out their logo, but this is only for visitors in the United States. If you’re desperate to see this, you’ll have to use a proxy or VPN.Google Blacked Out Logo

[UPDATE] WordPress has gone to great lengths to show their dislike of SOPA by blacking out screenshots with the word “CENSORED” on each one:

Aggh, I need to access Wikipedia to write my Essay!

Do you remember the days before the internet? Ah, those were the days… Now it seems that to do anything we have to go on to the internet to do our research. But how do you access Wikipedia today when it’s blacked out? Well, the lovely guys at Wikipedia are not there to make your life difficult. Wikipedia is not actually down as many news stories have said (including the BBC). All they’ve done is to add a black overlay to cover the content (using Javascript).

So, if you really, really want to be able to access the English version of Wikipedia, then just disable Javascript in your browser, or access the mobile version of Wikipedia. This FAQ page on Wikipedia tells you how to do it (aren’t they nice?!)

I support the protest, how do I blackout my site?

Stop Sopa ExampleTo support the blackout, you can do this quite easily without hurting your SEO. Probably the easiest way is to use this great bit of code by Zachary Johnson. The code is on Git Hub here. It looks really cool, and you can have a look at an example here.