Now that SOPA and PIPA are effectively dead (okay, shelved but not actually dead), it is worth circling back and looking at what the world would look like without some of the sites that have transformed the Internet. For example, YouTube announced yesterday that it is streaming over four billion videos a day – a figure that is up 25% from just eight months ago. The site provides access to millions of videos – most of which are user-created – that range from the hysterical to helpful and occasionally violate copyright law. Once notified by the legitimate copyright owners, it is up to YouTube to expeditiously remove the content from their servers and thus prevent further infringement. If SOPA and/or PIPA were passed “YouTube would just go dark immediately. It couldn’t function,” according to Bob Boorstin, Google’s Director of Public Policy.
Leading the blackout protest on 18 January was Wikipedia, the free, collaborative, multilingual Internet encyclopedia written by hundreds of thousands of contributors (as a side note, looking up “Wikipedia” on Wikipedia is a bit reminiscent of the movie Inception). As is the case with YouTube, Wikipedia would almost instantly run afoul of SOPA and/or PIPA and cease to exist. The infographic below does an excellent job if assessing what the world would be like if Wikipedia suddenly – and permanently – went dark. What it doesn’t detail is that Wikipedia is the most popular reference work on the Internet having an estimated 365 million readers worldwide (not all of whom would be impacted if the site had to go offline in the U.S., although Americans do account for 2.7 billion pageviews a month).
Shuttering one of the great sources of unbiased and free information – and the empowerment that comes with it – could have devastating consequences and sets a totalitarian precedent that I am loath to consider.