Wikipedia founder in free speech debate

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told an Oxford audience last Thursday that his website’s recent protest was a “huge success” but hoped it would be a “one-off”.

Speaking at the Clarendon Lab in the Department of Physics to launch a University research project, the Free Speech Debate, Wales criticised the anti-piracy laws being proposed in the US.

His visit came just a day after Wikipedia’s ‘blackout’, where it took its English language site offline for 24 hours. The questions fielded by the 300-strong audience mainly concerned SOPA and PIPA, the two pieces of legislation being debated in the American Congress.

Wales said: “The problem with the bills is in the definitions. Some versions of the bills have defini- tions of a ‘search engine’ that are so broad that it would clearly i clude Wikipedia; other versions of the Bill would make it illegal for Wikipedia to link the websites. That is a direct violation of our responsibility to report accurately. More broadly, we are concerned with the principle that it is okay to censor the Internet to fight piracy.”

“There’s a lot wrong with these bills. The State’s reason given is to combat piracy. A lot of money flows into Washington from Hollywood, and Hollywood is very concerned about the problems of piracy. Unfortunately, in my view, they are quite prone to overstate the size of the problem,” he added.

When asked about the solution to the piracy problem, Wales com- mented: “The solution to this can’t start with thinking of the ways to censor the Internet, to block ac- cess to such websites. The Inter- net just does not work this way. There are so many ways people can get access to information, and the censorship approach is not economically sensible. One of the things I think we should see in- stead is that Hollywood needs to wake up to the global world and the digital world.”

According to Wales, the blackout was a “huge success” but hopefully a “one-off”. He said: “I can’t necessarily promise that but I think we made the message quite clear.

On a normal day we have about 25 million people accessing Wikipedia. Yesterday, about 162 million people saw the protest and that’s a huge amount of attention drawn.” He added: “More importantly, although the Head of the UPAA called it a ‘silly publicity stunt’, we went from five senators opposing [the Bill] to thirty-five, and we only need forty-one to block it. So we consider it a huge success.”