SOPA/PIPA and libraries

(NB: or you could just watch this Clay Shirky video)

I wrote this for a science librarians mailing list, and in lieu of having time to write another post (today is a big day for us at Wikimedia) reproduce it here.


I’m a science librarian at UC Davis and sit on the board of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia.

In a nutshell: it’s far easier to stop bills from being passed than it is to overturn them once they have been passed. Wikimedia stands with much of the rest of the internet community in being concerned that these bills, as written, don’t just threaten individual sites but indeed threaten the whole structure of the open Internet. SOPA/PIPA have provisions that would overturn ┬áthe DMCA “safe harbor”, by requiring not just sites to take down links to infringing content on request and without review, but also ISPs to block access through DNS hacks and payment networks to stop payment to targeted sites. This is a kind of blacklisting that to date has only been seen in repressive regimes. The target of the legislation is “foreign infringing websites”, but the entire internet’s architecture would be affected.[1]

So no, it’s not just our business model that Wikimedia is concerned about. We are concerned about the entire network that we all rely on to freely and openly access information. And while Wikipedia *articles* hold to a principle of neutrality, Wikipedia *the project* is political: our mission and belief is that that everyone on earth should have access to good information, and that is a position that is under constant threat from censorious actions around the world. Wikimedia is in a unique position in that we aren’t dependent on ad revenue or commercial interests, and don’t have ties to big media (like most news outlets do) or shareholders (like most big information companies); we are only dependent on the goodwill of our community, and that community has spoken quite loudly and clearly that they want to protest these bills.[2]

Day in and day out, we take the internet for granted — that the network is there as a public and common good, and will always be accessible. But in fact, the open internet as we know it is dependent wholly on the legislation regulating it, and the U.S. has been a leader in this way in the last couple of decades, with laws that have enabled the innovation of Silicon Valley and the most vibrant information-based economy in the world. Bills like this threaten that openness. We don’t take a protest lightly — it is a big decision, and there are many questions about timing and so on — but we are willing to stand up for our beliefs and what Wikimedia stands for.

The American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries have both spoken out against SOPA/PIPA, as the bills would also affect library and university networks and would serve to greatly expand copyright infringement penalties [3]. However, most major publishers have signed on as being in favor of the bills[4]. So while the next couple of days are indeed a chance for libraries to shine as places to get information even when major websites are offline — be aware that as institutions our services are also threatened by these bills.

— Phoebe Ayers

1. see for instance:,,,

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