[Foundation-l] "We are the media, and so are you" Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh OpEd in Washington Post

Jay Walsh jwalsh at wikimedia.org
Thu Feb 9 22:04:49 UTC 2012

(Sharing this oped published in the Washington Post today. Will be printed
in tomorrow's paper)


We are the media, and so are you

By Jimmy Wales and Kat Walsh, Thursday, February 9, 4:15 PM

It’s easy to frame the fight over SOPA and PIPA as Hollywood vs. Silicon
Valley —two huge industries clashing over whose voice should dictate the
future of Internet policy —but it’s absolutely wrong. The bills are
dead,thanks to widespread protest. But the real architects of the bills’
defeat don’t have a catchy label or a recognized lobbying group. They don’t
have the glamour or the deep pockets of the studios. Yet they are the
largest, most powerful and most important voice in the debate —and, until
recently, they’ve been all but invisible to Congress.

They are you. And if not you personally, then your neighbors, your
colleagues, your friends and even your children. The millions of people who
called and wrote their congressional representatives in protest of the Stop
Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act were
“organized” only around the desire to protect the Web sites that have
become central to their daily lives.

Change like this needed a fresh set of voices. The established tech giants
may have newfound political influence, but their fights are still the same
closed-door tussles over minor details. They have been at the table, and
they have too much invested in the process to change it. More important,
they are constrained by obligations to their shareholders and investors, as
well as by the need to maintain relationships with their advertisers,
partners and customers.

Wikipedia,its users and its contributors don’t have the same constraints.
We don’t rely on advertising dollars or content partnerships. The billions
of words and millions of images in our projects come from the same place as
our financial support: the voluntary contribution of millions of
individuals. The result is free knowledge, available for anyone to read and

Wikipedia is not opposed to the rights of creators —we have the largest
collection of creators in human history. The effort that went into building
Wikipedia could have created shelves full of albums or near-endless nights
of movies. Instead it’s providing unrestricted access to the world’s
knowledge. Protecting our rights as creators means ensuring that we can
build our encyclopedias, photographs, videos, Web sites, charities and
businesses without the fear that they all will be taken away from us
without due process. It means protecting our ability to speak freely,
without being vulnerable to poorly drafted laws that leave our fate to a
law enforcement body that has no oversight and no appeal process. It means
protecting the legal infrastructure that allowed our sharing of knowledge
and creativity to flourish, and protecting our ability to do so on
technical infrastructure that allows for security and privacy for all
Internet users.

We are not interested in becoming full-time advocates; protests like the
Wikipedia blackout are a last resort. Our core mission is to make knowledge
freely available, and making the Web site inaccessible interrupts what we
exist to do. The one-day blackout,though, was just a speed bump. Breaking
the legal infrastructure that makes it possible to operate Wikipedia, and
sites like ours, would be a much greater disruption.

Two weeks ago we recognized a threat to that infrastructure and did
something we’ve never done before: We acknowledged that our existence is
itself political, and we spoke up to protect it. It turned out to be the
largest Internet protest ever.

The full-time advocates of freedom of information, such as the Electronic
Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, have been fighting for decades to
help create the legal environment that makes our work possible. We cannot
waste that effort by failing to speak in our own defense when that
environment is threatened.

It’s absolutely right that Congress cares about the content industry,
recognizing its ability to innovate, to create wealth and to improve lives.
But existing copyright enforcement laws were written in a world in which
the information we had access to on a broad scale came from a few
established media outlets. The players were easy to identify. They
organized into groups with common interests and fought to protect those
interests. The “content industry” is no longer limited to those few
influential channels.

The laws we need now must recognize the more broadly distributed and
broadly valuable power of free and open knowledge. They must come from an
understanding of that power and a recognition that the voices flooding the
phone lines and in-boxes of Congress on Jan. 18 represented the source of
that power. These laws must not simply be rammed through to appease narrow
lobbies without sufficient review or consideration of the consequences.

Because we are the media industry. We are the creators. We are the
innovators. The whole world benefits from our work. That work, and our
ability to do it, is worth protecting for everyone.

Jay Walsh, Head of Communications
+1 415 839 6885 ext 6609

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