A response to anger about the SOPA strike

I received the email below on Wednesday when Bibliofaction was on strike for the day. It’s a good, passionate email, so I thought I’d share it, and my thoughts about it, on this blog. I’d have replied sooner, but I’ve been ill for a few days and this is the first time I can bear to face the screen:

“It’s nice that you’re on strike, but you are aiming your protest at your customers and readers, not at the Congresspeople who need to see it. Google is placing a black mark on their website, Wikipedia is also on strike, and many other websites are doing the same thing. Nice that you are punishing your users, rather than actually gaining the attention of anyone who really needs to be made aware of your feelings, like people in Congress.

This is why I am generally against mass protests. They generally are not aimed at the people they need to be aimed at.

So, when the day is over, you can feel like you did something worthwhile by going on strike, your users will have been inconvenienced, and Congress will do what they were going to do anyway.

Wouldn’t it have been more useful to encourage a mass writer-letting campaign, and mass emails, aimed at Congress? But, no, we can’t do this. It might actually be effective.

You ever wonder why protests are generally so ineffective, and the agencies being protested against tend to do what they want regardless? Think about it.”

So, the email is a bit angry, but I can forgive that because it’s written by someone who cares and I’ve written plenty of angry emails in my time.

My short answer… I did the best I could in the time I had. I heard about the planned Wikipedia Blackout on Tuesday night. Looked at the SOPA Strike site and implemented their quick fix code for blacking out a website. I wrote a very quick email to Bibliofaction members. My wife checked the email for any nonsense spelling and then I forgot to press the send button. On Wednesday morning while I ate my porridge and looked at emails on my phone I was surprised no one had replied (Bilbiofaction members are generally pretty vocal and articulate and I thought this would be of interest). I realised I hadn’t press send. I sent the email. Then I was ill for a few days.

My longer, post-rationalised thoughts, considered after-the-fact and mostly prompted by this email…

  • Wikipedia drew a great big line in the sand. I had to choose which side of the line to stand. It would have been negligent not to take part in the strike, even if other methods of protest individually are more effective
  • “Customers” isn’t the right word for Bibliofaction members. We’ve run the website at a loss for over five years because it gives people a chance to express themselves creatively. I don’t care if the first time someone writes a short story it’s Harry Potter fan fiction, or if it uses trademarked copyrighted names, I just want people to have the confidence to write something. Anything. SOPA/PIPA are in direct opposition of that goal.
  • We couldn’t afford the time or the money to fight a claim under SOPA/PIPA if this became law. We can barely afford the hosting. It would be the death of Bibliofaction.
  • People rarely have time to read their emails, so blacking out the site is harsh, but it shows our members what is really at stake better than any email I can write.
  • Bibliofaction’s audience is worldwide, but a big chunk is in the US – if these people write to their members of congress it has more impact than me signing the petition (which I still did)
  • I can only email registered Bibliofaction members who have opted in to email comms. By blacking out the site I could also reach the readers of the website who don’t have registered accounts.
  • On a technicality, the links provided did ask you to write to congress. It would have been more effective if I had asked you to do that directly in the email (see excuse about limited time for that one)

So these thoughts are not the careful considered process I went through to decide what to do. This was not a planned campaigning activity, it was an action taken as a matter of urgency. However, it’s reassuring to reflect on these questions and still agree with the action taken.

Just as I finish writing this article, this message popped up in my email

“Thanks for letting me know. I live in Switzerland and never heard of it !”