Wikipedia plans to take its English-language site offline on Wednesday as part of protests against proposed anti-piracy laws in the US.
However, Twitter has declined to take part in the shutdown.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. Theft in the digital age is just a mouse click away. How you deal with that isn’t so easy. In a moment we’ll hear how artists and writers in Spain are losing out to illegal downloads. First, let’s examine the bill being considered now by the US Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. On the surface it would seem everyone should support legislation to prevent online piracy, but the folks at Wikipedia and Reddit are so mad about SOPA that they’re planning to shutdown their websites tomorrow in protest. Some opponents even say that if the law had already been in a place a year ago it might have negatively affected the Arab Spring protests. Zeynep Tufekci is an assistant professor at the school of information at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Zeynep, what is the best analogy you can give about how this law changes the way the internet works?
Zeynep Tufekci: Well, think about the telephone networks. Sometimes crimes are committed over the phone; people might threaten someone, people might say something they’re not supposed to say. Now, imagine if the response of the telephone company was to listen in on every single conversation and shutdown any conversation that it thought might be illegal. That’s what it’s doing. With the SOPA bill, what these legislations would do is put the burden of vetting every single piece of information uploaded on the internet for copyright violations and stop them if they’re suspect of this, which would effectively mean that we could no longer have user-generated content on the web.
Werman: Other details of SOPA that you can provide us with? I mean what is the act actually proposing that has Wikipedia and Reddit mad enough to shutdown their sites?
Tufekci: It would require internet service providers to block the domain names of websites in other countries that are suspected of illegal copied content. It would make search engines responsible for deleting those websites from their search results, and it would also order payment sites like PayPal from not dealing with any sites suspected of this kind of copyright infringement. Basically, the internet as we know it could not function in any way, shape or form similar to the internet that we know today.
Werman: If this law were in place say a year ago, how do you think it would have affected the protestors in Syria or Egypt or in the Arab Spring?
Tufekci: Well, one thing this law would do is to develop the kind of software that would look into the user’s activities at a very, very deep level because to control internet service providers like that you need that kind of software. And that kind of software is exactly what regimes like Syrian regime and the Chinese regime use to monitor the activities of their dissidents. And in fact, we’ve seen a case in which a hacker analyzer had found that a particular program was logging too much information on cellphones, and he posted analysis of it. And the company responded by claiming that this analysis was violating copyright because Trevor Eckert, the researcher, had posted some manuals. The manuals were actually available publicly online on the company’s own website, so what the company was doing was to use copyright infringement claim as a way to take down criticism. Now, if companies can use copyright infringement every time you criticize or expose an aspect of their dealings, we’re not gonna have free speech as we know it.
Werman: Isn’t the opposition to this, like your opposition and from Wikipedia and Facebook, kind of a difficult sell because SOPA on its face goes after those who pirate movies and music, you know, where the stakes and stakeholders, Hollywood music industry, are very high?
Tufekci: This law is not going to prevent piracy because we know, for example, in Iran the government is trying to block Facebook, but their security agency just announced that there are 17 million users of Facebook in Iran. So if Iranians can get around that kind of censorship, the poeple who want to exchange music, they’re gonna find ways to circumvent this. So what needs to happen is that the music industry and all other stakeholders who have a claim to these intellectual property issues have to find reasonable measures and business models that are compatible with the reality of the internet.
Werman: Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at the school of information at the UNC Chapel Hill. Thank you very much indeed.
Tufekci: Thank you.
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