Wikipedia went offline for a day and for some, it was a long 24 hours. While the validity of its information can be contested, web-browsers used to being spoon-fed information had to do without.

The Facebook generation was activated. Up until this point, the SOPA battle had been largely fought in the tech, media, and business pages but all that changed when Wikipedia went dark.

In an effort to protect the very freedom and openness at the core of the web’s architecture and success, millions of internet users asserted their influence on Washington, and effectively stopped Hollywood’s effort to address “piracy” the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

With the support of the traditionally non-activist Wikipedia, the Internet community staged a powerful and effective shut down of critical parts of the web for 24 hours. Rather than simply sounding on a social network of choice, four million people used Wikipedia to look up contact information for their local political representatives, flooding switchboards and other communications channels in Washington.

The action didn’t assert the right to pirate the work of others; instead the anger was about the extremism of SOPA. If implemented, it would have gone the same route as China, Burma, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian regimes which seek to control and censor the internet – curtailing free speech, threatening whistleblowers and undermining human rights. Vague and broad, the bill would have been ineffective in stopping piracy and instead, would have stifled innovation and threatened the structure and security of the Internet.

While the Facebook generation took action and won – SOPA was ill thought out and the problems it sought to address still remain. The film and music industries will continue to work against piracy, arguing the damaging effect it has – and will continue to have – on creative industries. However media companies, such as Wikipedia and Google, should not be held responsible for information they carry, given that they cannot monitor every posting.

There is a naive view that as a new medium, and one that associates itself with democracy, the Internet should not be subject to any regulation. Others think that because it disturbs traditional power structures, the Internet needs extraordinary powers to keep it under control such as SOPA.

Finding a legally smart way to work against piracy and for internet freedom depends on the two sides of the SOPA.

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Image credit: SimonQ錫濛譙Flickr Creative Commons