Wikipedia gets it wrong, again

Brian Jones
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The danger of relying on Wikipedia for valid information was on worldwide display this week, as operators of the famous site shut it down for 24 hours Wednesday to protest — along with others such as Google and Yahoo — a couple of proposed laws being pondered in Washington, D.C.

Wikipedia’s homepage screen was black, with the message, “For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open

Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”

Wikipedia’s voluntary blackout received wide news coverage. The objects of its protestations are the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Strangely enough, the Wikipedia people apparently did not consult their own page describing the principles and laws of copyright.


What harm?

Instead, they resorted to rhetoric about censorship, and warnings that the U.S. legislation “infringes free expression while harming the Internet.”

Odd expression, that: “harming the Internet.” It’s as if they think the Internet is a living, breathing being, rather than simply a fabulous tool made possible by terrific technology.

News stories about the one-day blackout centred on the protesters’ concern that Internet content would be censored and controlled by the U.S. government.

Again, the Wikipedia crowd should have looked up “censorship” on their own site.

The crux of the issue is two words: “free” and “content.”

Users of the Internet have long been accustomed to it being free (other than paying a fee to one’s provider), mainly because it took a while for the computer geeks to figure out a way to bill individuals for their usage.

And because the technology was, and is, so awesomely impressive, few people gave, or give, much thought to where the content comes from.

But just because you read, or watch, something on a computer screen doesn’t mean the principles of creative ownership are null and void. All it means is that the laws of creative ownership are practically unenforceable (for now).

The premise of copyright is that a creator retains control over usage of and income from the thing (song, book, artwork, movie, etc.) that he or she created.

Massive and illegal distribution over the Internet of copyrighted material is most often defended by pointing out that the copyright owners are already filthy rich — rock stars and movie studios, usually.

It is a ridiculous, illogical argument. Try it in court and see how far it gets you. The level of their bank account is irrelevant.


Pay to play

If Wikipedia, Google and Yahoo and the bunch of other Internet multimillionaires — there’s that argument again — want to use copyrighted material, there is a simple way for them to do so: pay for it.

The bedazzling nature of the Internet has fooled some people into thinking, erroneously, that certain principles are outdated — this being the computer age and the 21st century and all. Wrong, on all counts. Some accused libelers are now finding out, to their surprise and displeasure, that the courts can, and will, enforce laws against libel for comments made via computer screen every bit as much as if they were made in print or in front of a camera or microphone.

Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo, et al, portray themselves as heroes fighting against censorship. They are not. On the contrary, their actions perpetuate and reinforce contempt for creators, and for creators’ right to be financially compensated for their work.

Most writers, musicians, artists, etc. are not rich, and need — and deserve — every bit of income they can get from their work. You could probably look it up on Wikipedia.


Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo U.S. Congress The Telegram

Geographic location: U.S.

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Recent comments

  • John Drover
    January 26, 2012 - 10:56

    You didn't actually read the US bills in question or consult a legal or text expert on these issues. This is very obvious in your editorial. Either stick to what you know, or get educated about the things you don't before you right about them.

  • Chadwick
    January 24, 2012 - 17:21

    To anyone educated on how the internet actually works and is financed by this article is absolutely atrocious. If you actually bother to read the bills and what they would allow for, you would care a little less about piracy and more about monopolies formed by intuitions that have the most pull in this policy. This is nothing but an attempt at controlling what content is viewed online. There is no way to police copyright infringement in the united states, and this is a non-issue in Canada. Keep this garbage out of your newspaper, IMO this author gets it wrong on every stance.

  • Andrew Stein, Concerned Candian and Newfoundlander
    January 22, 2012 - 18:04

    FYI: the vast, active, and lively communities of the internet CREATED a living, breathing being, AS WELL as a tool made possible by terrific technology. YES it is ALSO an unthinking mechanism for you to obtain information. But don't forget that for the diverse communities you clearly aren't a part of, it is an ANONYMOUS SAFEHAVEN of opinion and thought. Suppressing these communities is a step BACKWARDS from a global citizenship. global understanding of one another. PEACE. PROSPERITY. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION. These bills claim to be for the protection of copyrighted material, and surely they would indeed slow the flow, but filesharing and copyright violation will live on regardless. Even if these bills could put and end to piracy for good, which they cant, the act of trying would be taking massive chunks out of these communities. Silencing the interactions, or even violating the privacy of any individual, is a step towards stagnation for the zeitgeist of the people. it is my opinion that the internet MUST remain free, the changes that must be made are for all other areas of our societies need to embrace the LIVING BREATHING GLOBAL COMMUNITY THAT HAS BEEN CREATED AND DEFENDED BY WE, THE PEOPLE. the corporations, entrepreneurs, and those who serve US (did you forget?) in our governments need to adjust to our NEW world, and not the reverse of our new world of information submitting to the old standards of INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND CONTROL. the new view is that the summit of human knowledge and creativity belongs to all humans equally, and not the first person to write it down. Drop the ignorance and get with it, or keep your ignorance and opinion to yourself and fade out along with the old ideas.

  • Cluefulness
    January 21, 2012 - 07:27

    Your article also doesn't explain why SOPA and PIPA wouldn't harm the internet either. Read the bills. Sure, Smith can say that it only applies to "Sites dedicated to copyright infringement", but go ahead and find out exactly what sites qualify for that definition, and you'll know who's lying. Despite Smith's earnest denial that Wikipedia, Google, or Youtube will be affected, the definitions of what sites can be affected and what the actions will be done will horrify you. The only thing they changed is that they now put domestic (read: American) sites on the clear. As if by making special exemptions to American sites they are somehow making it better. No, they're marginalizing the rest of the world.

  • Wikipedia gets it right
    January 21, 2012 - 05:02

    "Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo, et al, portray themselves as heroes fighting against censorship. They are not. On the contrary, their actions perpetuate and reinforce contempt for creators, and for creators’ right to be financially compensated for their work." Not a very intelligent article, Jones. Researching what you write about is the key to being a successful writer. It seems like any joe off the street, right or wrong, can have an article published these days. Does the Telegram even have an editor anymore?

  • Skeptical Cynic
    January 20, 2012 - 22:05

    On another note, columnist Jones lumps Wikipedia in with Google, Yahoo, and "the bunch of other Internet multimillionaires." Doesn't Jones realize that Wikipedia is non-profit and relies on donations from users for much of its operating revenue? It would seem Jones is slagging Wikipedia without really knowing what it's all about. Mr. Jones, if I may... before further excavating the hole you've already dug yourself into, check it out

  • Evan W
    January 20, 2012 - 18:57

    This article is an embarrassment to myself and Newfoundland - for shame. It's clear you have no idea what you are talking about and would prefer to parrot talking points from those in power instead of examining the issue with a neutral eye.

  • look further
    January 20, 2012 - 18:09

    Please don't take any bill proposed for face value. One has to wonder what is included inside the bill. Commonly, many rules/laws are slipped into these bills that highlight government's true purpose in creating it. I KNOW that the US government has been scandalized with regard to the "wiki-leaks" and has actually detained it's government employee who leaked the information overseas in an unnamed location for leaking top secret information to the public. As well, they did their best to extradite and penalize the founder of no avail. Why? Free Speech laws. I find it awfully coincidental and suspicious that now the emphasis is on protecting copyright laws...perhaps under the guise of censorship? Reasearch this, take a look at how many US bills/laws have been passed only because they were slipped into a seemingly innocent bill. Look further.

  • CM
    January 20, 2012 - 18:07

    The old men who drafted this bonkers legislation are Ignorant to how the internet works, while trying to create law affecting something they don't understand to appease lobbyists for campaign finance or personal gain. They, like you sir, should get educated on what's at stake before trying to form an opinion.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    January 20, 2012 - 17:52

    How is "harming the internet" an odd expression? It is no more odd than stating that "a virus has infected my computer". At any rate, as a frequent user and supporter of Wikipedia, I believe the esteemed columnist misses the point of concern the Wikipedia Foundation has regarding SOPA and PIPA. Wikipedia may not be perfect, but its heart is certainly in the right place.

  • mysticalcheese
    January 20, 2012 - 16:06

    In reality, they own the sites, they can do what they want. the people pushing for this to pass are the ones losing most money, not the artists. Most of em make next to nothing from actual cd sales. Artists make the big chunk of their money through concerts and live shows. And Hollywood should stop making crappy and/or rehashed movies and im sure they would get a muuuch larger profit. : P

  • Amanda
    January 20, 2012 - 15:54

    You did an excellent job proving you have no idea what you are talking about. Get a clue then write about something you actually understand.

    • Jack Roberts
      January 20, 2012 - 16:44

      Wow. You appear to be so misinformed I'm not sure whether this is a joke or not. You do realise wikipiedia relies on donations to keep it running as it does not monetize traffic or collect ad revenue? "internet millionaires" really?

  • W McLean
    January 20, 2012 - 14:08

    The column itself reproduces other people's words, which are automatically copyrighted. Did the columnist get permission?

  • Bren
    January 20, 2012 - 13:25

    Ignorance is bliss. I think a little bit more research into SOPA and PIPA could have been done here. It seems like you missed the point, entirely.

  • Rick Martin
    January 20, 2012 - 13:06

    Brian, I think there are a few things you're missing here. You say, with regard to copyright law: > "The bedazzling nature of the Internet has fooled some people into thinking, erroneously, that certain principles are outdated — this being the computer age and the 21st century and all. Wrong, on all counts." But indeed, you cannot deny that certain copyright laws are indeed outdated. Copyright laws created decades before the digital age now apply to digital products. You would loan a vinyl record you had purchased to a friend without hesitation, but music in digital form makes this process suddenly a dilemma, and the old law is inadequate. Brian with due respect, your argument lies a little on the superficial side, without touching on any of the particulars of SOPA or intellectual property or those who oppose them. Your piece sounds anti-web. And indeed, as it is written in plain text without a single hyperlink, connected to nothing else on the internet - it is fundamentally anti-web in its form as well. Well done. I shall now step off your lawn, Rick

  • test
    January 20, 2012 - 12:59

    Test Test

  • Mark
    January 20, 2012 - 12:16

    This came to my attention through a link on another site and frankly it was embarassing as an Atlantic Canadian to have one of our news sources getting attention for such a misinformed and poorly written piece. I realize that this is an opinion piece and appropriately filed as such; however I would expect any reputable news organization to still put forward effort to properly filter that content so that it can at least inteligently comment on the topic at hand. 1) The issue was not about content on the internet being free as in beer but free as in speech. There is a reason that fair use laws exist. People are allowed legally to generate content even if said content incorporates copyrighted works of others provided it follows fair use guidelines. This law provides for no due process and thus bypassing any ability for a content creator to defend their right to use material under faire use laws. 2) The protest has nothing to do with people wanting to use copyrighted content, outside of fair use laws, without consequence. The issue is that these laws allow for no due process and hold service providers responsible for user generated content on their sites. A good example would be if I were to submit a copyrighted text in a comment on your news site. Do you think it would be fair that when the owner of that copyright submits a complaint that the US government hijacks your domain (you're using a .com which they consider to be US owned) and takes down the entire website? That your site will remain offline until you can manage to fight that order in court in the US court system? For most sites on the internet that can ruin them. 3) As describe in #2 the issue is not with the service providers illegally using copyrighted material, the issue is that service providers will be held responsible for the actions of their customers. That means any site that allows any user participation (comments, content submission, reviews etc...) becomes a legal minefield. Sites such as youtube, google, blogger, bing, reddit, cbc etc... would all immediately become incredibly vulnerable to being removed from the internet completely. 4) The censorship spoken about follows on their being no due process. Not many people trust the large corporations beyond these and other bills to respect the rights of others to express themselves. These laws give them the ability to elliminate others from the internet immediately with no due process based on a complaint of copyright violation. It gives all the power to these copyright holders and none to the accused. You can look at the history over the past decade of how they've acted with sending blanket take down notices under the existing laws (see DMCA which already gives them the power to get copyrighted material taken down legally) even when the content is not infringing. They've pushed for lawsuites against people with no evidence to backup claims. Internet content generators are their competition, not their customers; would you trust your competition to respect your rights and best interests? In summary I hope that this piece can be redacted or that another piece is produced and made equally visible that can actually intelligently discuss and comment on the issue rather than what appears to be the shallowest understanding supported by no effort to research the topic. Thank you for your time, Mark PEI, Canada

  • Darlene Scott
    January 20, 2012 - 11:20

    I think there are some factual errors in your column. Wikipedia did not overlook its own page - it linked to its own entry on SOPA - and it did not do an entire blackout; all content was available on mobile devices. They wrote an opinion piece and took a stand - no need to be objective there. WikiP is not a multimillionaire - it is a non-profit organization. I have read thousands of wiki entries and always been impressed by its regular mention of users' needs to respect copyrighted materials; its clear notice when an entry has to be verified, and its use of footnoted references. I respect the opinion of Wikipedia overall and their stance has made me take an interest in SOPA - surely someone needs to take a stand on any government move to restrict free speech when it has such sweeping global potential - especially a group that has promoted so much transparency. Go Wikipedia!

  • Colin Burke
    January 20, 2012 - 11:09

    Not everyone who hates the idea of politicians and civil servants usurping the function of the courts is slavering to pirate copyrighted work. Nor does everyone object to copyright infringement for the same reason. I hired a lawyer to stop a large company which had unlawfully actually registered copyright in an article of mine and was offering it for profit on the Internet without paying me; had someone simply made the same article available for free at his own expense, just to advance what he thought were my good ideas, I would have felt far differently; I might still stop him, especially if he was hampering my own making money from that article, but I would be flattered rather than thoroughly upset as in fact I was.

  • sealcove
    January 20, 2012 - 09:53

    This is about watching every thing you do, Did someone say china

      January 20, 2012 - 12:26

      Actually the lobby groups said China in their pitch as an exemplar of how using firewalls can work. So between criticizing China's policies of censorship and then using China as their model to bring SOPA and PIPA forward, everyone should be a little confused as to where our leaders stand.

  • TylrSolvein
    January 20, 2012 - 08:59

    This article misses the main point of the problem. Instead of focusing on how it affect the businesses, what about the people? Without the people, businesses would fall, and nobody would want to use an internet controlled by the government. If SOPA was passed, the USA would be no different from China. I believe Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo, etc. to be heroes.

  • Nihiltres
    January 20, 2012 - 08:46

    Mr. Jones: With respect, your article reflects an unfortunate ignorance of the nature of the protest. Wikipedia, and Wikipedians like me, are not opposed to SOPA and PIPA on intellectual property grounds. We respect intellectual property laws, and support the idea of reducing piracy—but we think that SOPA and PIPA will be ineffective against piracy, while having a chilling effect on websites operating in good faith, Wikipedia included. The bills have over their history supported a few different options for implementing anti-piracy measures within the U.S., and these have all had significant undesirable side-effects such as breaking the security protocols used by the domain name system (DNS), or functioning only as a toothless removal of a website from the DNS that can be easily bypassed by such advanced measures (that was sarcasm) as typing in their IP address manually. While failing to prevent piracy, the bills expose legitimate sites to a huge amount of liability: they are suddenly liable for everything their users may post, meaning that, in theory, if a single user posts a single copyright violation to a site, the entire site could be taken down. To avoid liability, sites like Facebook and Twitter would have to start unreasonably huge screening programs for user content, and volunteer-driven efforts like Wikipedia might not be feasible at all. The current system already provides a rather reasonable means to combat copyright violations: the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) introduced the simple measure of a takedown notice. This lets the website owner know that there is a copyright violation, and as long as they promptly remove it, they are not liable. Further, they can fight illegitimate requests (not an idle concern!), whereas under SOPA a court order could shut down their site before they have good recourse. We at Wikipedia already do more to prevent copyright violations on our site than most: we do not wait for DMCA notices, but actively remove even suspected copyright violations from the site. We do this to the point that we get emails from copyright owners protesting that we're deleting their legitimate additions, simply because it's not clear enough that there isn't a copyright violation. When we exercise fair use for certain media, we go beyond the letter of the law, with stricter restrictions than required and a detailed fair use rationale for every unique page an item is used on. Operating in good faith, we think that SOPA and PIPA would have rather negative consequences if implemented, while failing to accomplish their stated goals. Your article makes false and reductive assumptions about our position; please revise it.

  • will knapp
    January 20, 2012 - 07:47

    i would like to see more info on this the artical dosent seem to have any thing about the argument. what is the law about? wikapedia says (this is just an exaple) that this site would be responsible for checking the content of all the avritisments and any links that you may have on your pages is that true?

  • esby
    January 20, 2012 - 07:22

    Nice try - SOPA is nothing more than a corporate backed gag on free thinking and expression. Yes piracy is a problem but a wide reaching online assault like this will be abused by the rich and powerful to aid there own business interests and curb any descent. Don't like a bloggers politics? Plant pirated links and block the site. Don't want a protest? Shut down the organising rally websites with copyrighted material. I can see this coming a mile away - Isn't it funny that Rupert Murdock, a mogul who recently apologised for the hacking of people's phones and illegal intrusion into private lives is one of SOPA's biggest champions? If that is not solid proof to fight this bill I don't know what is...