If you visited in the last twenty-four hours, you would’ve seen that the site was, like many others, silenced to protest SOPA.
Not everyone agreed with the blackout strategy. Merlin Mann, someone I respect a lot for a variety of reasons and whose opinions I value, tweeted that he didn’t see the point.
I think I understand Merlin’s position – that, as a content creator on the web, it is silly to censor yourself to protest censorship. It’s a fair criticism, but my own motivation was to make a point and raise awareness. Did I accomplish that? Maybe. I get nowhere near the sort of traffic that Merlin probably sees, but I know that in some of my circles – online and off – people noticed it. I reached a few people by my action, and for me, that’s all I hoped to achieve. The stance taken by Reddit, Wikipedia, and others made an impact and stirred discussions.
The fight isn’t over. We can all easily call today a victory, but will the energy carry over to next week? Next month? The next battle we have over this issue? Even if SOPA and PIPA are dropped from congressional consideration, the content companies who prefer zero copying will continue to fight for restrictions and line the pockets of congressional representatives. SOPA and PIPA are part of a history that’s been going on for twenty years, beginning with media concerns over copying television or movies with VCRs or music with personal tape recorders. The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 established precedents for infringement, primarily declaring that copying and remixing was fine unless someone was making perfect copies and reselling them. But media companies were not content with the ruling. We need to be ready for the next salvo.
The strategy worked today, but it won’t be effective in the long run. Blocking our content or plastering “STOP SOPA” on our Twitter avatars may make us feel like we’re having an impact, but this only works for so long and in certain instances. We need to move on to more effective long-term strategies, and in that spirit I’d like to direct you to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The EFF, a donor-supported nonprofit (full disclosure: I’m a member), is one of our most effective lobbyists in the campaign against SOPA/PIPA and similar legislation. Please, go donate or become a member.