Last updated: February 6, 2012 - 9:37am
[Commentary] Wikipedia, while it has grown something of a bureaucratic exoskeleton, remains at heart the most successful example of the public-service spirit of the wide-open Web: nonprofit, communitarian, comparatively transparent, free to use and copy, privacy-minded, neutral and civil. So as I followed the latest battle in the great sectarian war over the governing of the Internet — the attempt to curtail online piracy — I was startled to see that Wikipedia’s founder and philosopher, Jimmy Wales, who generally stays out of the political limelight, had assumed a higher profile as a combatant for the tech industry. He supplied an aura of credibility to a libertarian alliance that ranged from the money-farming Megatrons of Google to the hacker anarchists of Anonymous. Et tu, Jimmy?
The partisans of an unfettered Internet saw their moment, and seized it. They unleashed a wave of protest that included much waving of the First Amendment and an attention-grabbing blackout of Wikipedia, the company’s most conspicuous foray into protest politics. The legislation is dead, and proponents of the open Web have shown that they are the new power in Washington. The question is, how will they use their muscle now? Does this smackdown mean that any attempt to police the Web for thievery is similarly doomed? Content-makers would be crazy to let the Internet be stunted as a force for invention, mobilization and shared wisdom. It’s the sea we all swim in. At the same time, online companies would be crazy to let piracy kill off the commerce that supplies quality material upon which even free sites like Wikipedia depend.
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