In which I disagree with Paul Carr r.e Wikipedia’s SOPA blackout

Paul Carr at PandoDaily asserts that Wikipedia’s SOPA blackout is a terrible idea. 

Carr bases his argument, as outlined in his post, on the following:

  1. Whatever your stance on SOPA, closing down a global business to protest an American law is foolish. And to shutter Wikipedia — a crowd-funded international encyclopedia — in protest of a single national issue is even worse. 
  2. One of the core principles of Wikipedia is its neutrality. No matter how controversial the topic, Wikipedia’s own neutrality guidelines stress the importance of balance, of not taking a side…The trouble with taking a political stance on one issue is that your silence on every issue 

On the second point – that the blackout violates Wikipedia’s avowedly neutral stance – I agree.

But to argue that SOPA is an “American law” or a “single national issue” is to thoroughly misrepresent the proposed legislation.

[Caveat: I am not a lawyer, etc]

Consider the following lines from the text of the House version of HR 3261 (PDF / HTML) (emphasis mine):

SEC. 102. ACTION BY ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT U.S. CUSTOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. SUPPORT OF FOREIGN INFRINGING SITES.

(a) Definition- For purposes of this section, a foreign Internet site or portion thereof is a `foreign infringing site’ if–

(1) the Internet site or portion thereof is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users in the United States;

(2) the owner or operator of such Internet site is committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations punishable under section 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, or 2320, or chapter 90, of title 18, United States Code; and

(3) the Internet site would, by reason of acts described in paragraph (1), be subject to seizure in the United States in an action brought by the Attorney General if such site were a domestic Internet site.

The point of SOPA is that it is extraterritorial in scope – it is designed to bring to bear the weight of US law on foreign websites as if “such site were a domestic Internet site”. 

And as reddit engineer Jason Harvey pointed out in an excellent post on SOPA and PIPA:

Under these broad definitions, domestically hosted sites such as ‘redd.it’ and ‘bit.ly’ can be defined as foreign internet sites. On the other side of the coin, foreign hosted sites such as wikileaks.org and thepiratebay.org can be defined as ‘domestic’, since their domain names are registered through authorities located in the U.S.

On that latter point, an elaboration from Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa:

SOPA treats all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain as domestic domain names for U.S. law purposes. Moreover, it defines “domestic Internet protocol addresses” – the numeric strings that constitute the actual address of a website or Internet connection – as “an Internet Protocol address for which the corresponding Internet Protocol allocation entity is located within a judicial district of the United States.” Yet IP addresses are allocated by regional organizations, not national ones. The allocation entity located in the U.S. is called ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. Its territory includes the U.S., Canada, and 20 Caribbean nations. This bill treats all IP addresses in this region as domestic for U.S. law purposes. To put this is context, every Canadian Internet provider relies on ARIN for its block of IP addresses. In fact, ARIN even allocates the block of IP addresses used by federal and provincial governments. The U.S. bill would treat them all as domestic for U.S. law purposes.

Crucially, the bill would also affect foreign nationals, if such were:

(A) a registrant of a domain name used by a foreign infringing site; or (B) an owner or operator of a foreign infringing site.

And here’s more on that from Dr Geist:

Should a [foreign] website owner wish to challenge the court order, U.S. law asserts itself in another way, since in order for an owner to file a challenge (described as a “counter notification”), the owner must first consent to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

So here I must disagree with Paul Carr.

SOPA and PIPA are not just “American” issues. They are global, for good or ill. Mostly for ill.

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One thought on “In which I disagree with Paul Carr r.e Wikipedia’s SOPA blackout

  1. Actually… the actions of the Wikipedians are (1) separate from the articles themselves, not changing the content in any way and (2) deal with the very survivability of Wikipedia itself.I have problems with Wikipedia, in particular how narrow minded the administrators are and how pedantic discussions with them in the past have been – but the reality is Wikipedia really did no wrong by blacking itself out. Had it changed the content, I would cite neutrality – but they didn’t. Further – if you don’t like it, don’t use it. 🙂 Most of the people griping about not being able to use Wikipedia on Wednesday probably haven’t contributed a cent or an edit in their lives.

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