From Russia, Without Love (and Censorship)

Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia, Discussing Russia BlackoutAbout 7 months ago, English Wikipedia held a worldwide blackout on January 18, 2012, along with dozens of other Internet sites, to protest the internet bills of Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). And the move worked pretty well, since the bills are currently stalled, though bits and pieces of them seem to keep popping up elsewhere. Read the full details of the event here. The blackout actions have since been deemed a success.

On July 9, 2012, the Russian Wikipedia followed the example of its English counterpart, by shutting down for a full 24 hours to protest the new censorship law that has been introduced in the country. The protest is aimed mainly at the tremendous power that will be granted to the Russian government. By allowing it to blacklist certain categories of sites such as child pornography and substance abuse, the censorship bill does aim to play a positive role in criminal enforcement, but the concern for protest stems from the fact that the government’s censorship power can just as easily be misused to supress dissenting and critical voices. The worry then, is that Russia’s already stringent freedom of expression laws will be further used to quell opinions that are unpopular with the government’s view.

Interestingly, this is the second time this year that Wikipedia has chosen to get involved in online protesting and activism, very clearly showing its alliance and allegiance in the great IP rights, censorship and democratic governance debates. However, by assuming this role, it is also arguably losing its neutrality, something that it has always prided itself on. Watch founder Jimmy Wales’ defense of the decision to black Russian Wikipedia out, and his insistence that the organization remains committed to its primary goal of being an online encyclopedia.

As the interview goes on, however, Wales can’t help but justify the Russian blackout decision as an ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’ (quotes mine) sort of thing. Clearly though, even Wales is aware of the huge risk Wikipedia is taking. It remains to be seen whether the organization will still manage to maintain its neutrality, or if it might need to reevaluate its purpose online.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


About: Mekhala Chaubal

Mekhala is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Canada with an interest in all areas of intellectual property (IP) law in a transnational context, privacy rights, and the development of IP in emerging economies. She is currently immersed in learning about innovation, entrepreneurship and the finer points of patent, copyright and trade-mark law as IP Legal Assistant.

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