Where did Wikipedia go?

Let’s keep traffic moving on the information super-highway.

You could fit 4 buses through there if you wanted!

I’m sure plenty of you have noticed that today that for pretty much the first time, Wikipedia has gone on strike. What better way to raise awareness over a matter than taking one of the worlds most visited websites, and replacing it with a political message.

And that political message is this: stop SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). These a bills currently being debated over and voted on in the United States parliament right now. They are measures to try to counter piracy through restricting connection to websites, even those outside the United States, who are violating copyright laws. This would mean that service providers, advertising agencies and so forth would not legally be allowed to be advertising on such websites.

On the surface, we might all look at it and say ‘fine, yes, we need to stop people stealing copyrighted material, it might be nice to be able to watch tv on the internet, but at the end of the day, that does reduce the funding available to make more media.’ Yet here, we lie at the doorstep of a bigger concern.

I live in Britain, a land of red tape and regulation. Where I live in Leeds, it was once possibly to quickly drive to the city centre, however as the years have gone on, more and more restrictions have been applied, in the name of all sorts of ‘good causes’, such as the environment, safety, promoting bus use and so forth, that now it is the traffic laughing stock of the world. A perfectly good 4 car wide road, has now become single track road, with speed limits, speed cameras, traffic islands and bus lanes. Furthermore, alternative routes to the city centre have had similar capacity shrinkage, and with every change, the condition of the road has become lumpier and more broken up. The result is that you will find better maintained highways in the third world.

Now, at one point, roads were key to the economy, making connections between places allowed business and commerce to thrive, which is the foundation for a vibrant economy. And really, they still are the foundation of successful business. No surprise then that business is struggling these days, and with that, especially small businesses.

Now imagine if the same happened not just to the highway, but to the information super-highway.

Nobody intended to ruin Kirkstall Road! The planning office didn’t sit down one morning and say “I know, let’s half the capacity and cut some speed limits and see now much traffic congestion we can make!” But sustained lobbying from organisations (because remember who pays for election campaigns) causes both government leaders and corporations to look after themselves first.

And have Kirkstall Road’s restrictions had any positive impacts? The benefits to lobbying organisations are but a token in comparison to the tens of thousands of litres of fuel wasted sitting in traffic, the lost business and personal/social hours. The frustration and tension built sitting in car after car of traffic. And even so, while taking the green approach and cycling on it, my dad still got run down on it by a van (he was OK).

Back when cars were rickety and unsafe, 30 was deemed an appropriate speed to drive in neighbourhood's.

Can you imagine an internet, where people daren’t upload certain content, for fear that their services might be cut off. The money needed to be spent seeking advice to be sure that content is permitted. The reduced margins that would be made by service providers and advertising agencies. Costs will rise, productivity would fall. Websites, a phenominally practical way for individuals to have as much power as corporations to present information would fail just as small businesses do due to poor infrastructure.

And where could it go from there? What other types of information might then be restricted. Which countries or organisations would want to limit access, speed or number of permitted users to support their own self interests?

Restrictions are a nice idea, but they will never stop the issue, those keen to spread copyrighted media will continue to do so, and will continue to find ways around the system. It begins an expensive game of cat and mouse that the law makers will never win. In the mean time, the only people who will loose out are the law abiding people, to whom the service of the internet is intended for.

Yes, some information is copyrighted, and the profitable use without permission is theft. But they’re not loosing that much really are they? Pirate VHS casettes were going around long before the internet was used for piracy. And that didn’t put the stars out of business. This might be the most liberal thing I’ll ever say, but maybe Ghandi is right on this one. It would be theraputic for them and the rest of us, for many artists to take a pay cut. A glance at the cover of any womens magazine will tell you why.

So that’s it really. Let us save the information super-highway from the squeeky wheel-lobbying evoked red tape that has harmed our highways and other infrastructure. Let us keep it as a 6 lane freeway, not a 20 mph passage with speed bumps.

More information:

Track SOPA http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-3261

Track PIPA http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s112-968

Wikipedia’s view on the matter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:SOPA_initiative/Learn_more

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