Today Wikia has become an amazing community of almost 60 million monthly users collaborating to share knowledge about topics they are passionate about. We have millions and millions of pages of user generated content created by this incredible collaboration. Becuse of the community, Wikia has now grown to be one of the 50 largest web networks in the world - an amazing accomplishment.

This existence of this community and Wikia itself is threatened by SOPA - the Stop Online Piracy Act, heading through the US House of Representatives and it's sister bill PIPA, the Protect-IP Act, heading through the Senate -- and I'd like to explain why in this blog post.

Before doing this however, I want to say that I support the idea of finding appropriate ways to combat rampant piracy. I have many friends in the content industry who make amazing movies, music and books who deserve to be able to choose who they will license copyrighted works to and be paid appropriately for their intellectual property. I can understand how frustrating it must be to have web sites somewhere in the world making millions of dollars offering content without license and because of where they operate, there is no legal recourse for content owners. And when these websites are sent huge traffic from google and bing, and process payments through mastercard, visa, paypal, etc -- all US companies, that makes it even more frustrating. It is for these reasons that proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA were created.

Having said this, SOPA and PIPA are deeply flawed legislation and are NOT the way to address these issues while keeping the internet operating in a consistent fashion that continues to spur innovation that creates companies like Wikia, Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and others. If these laws pass, they will force massive restrictions on user-generated content -- like wikis, photos, videos, posts to forums, etc. and will create fundamental change to the architecture of the web. The end result is that it will be difficult, if not impossible for user generated sites to continue to exist and be viable.

Here's why:

  • It will assign legal liability to site owners for all user generated content. Site owners could face heavy fines and jail time.
  • Site owners would have to inspect and filter everything users upload -- all text, images or video.
  • It bypasses the notice/takedown provision of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) and further denies site owners due process of law by enabling DNS blacklisting based on any good faith assertion by an individual copyright owners.
  • It can also compel payment processors to stop doing business with the web site in question.

To make this clearer, let me give you a real world, Wikia example. Let's say a Wikia user posts a photo of Steve Buscemi in the Boardwalk Empire wiki and he/she honestly believes the posting is allowed by "fair use". Let's now say that HBO (or Steve Buscemi, or the photographer who took the picture, etc) believes they owns the copyright and didn't grant a license of for the picture to be used by Wikia. With the provisions provided by today's DMCA, HBO would file a takedown notice for the picture and if Wikia determines the notice was properly filed and valid, we would take down the image. End of story. But with these new bills, based solely on a good faith assertion of infringement, because we failed to prevent the photo from being posted and without any notification, Wikia's entire site could be DNS blacklisted (meaning google and other search engines wouldn't include it in any search results), all companies that collect and pay money to Wikia could be forced to stop, and Wikia's owners could be fined and sent to jail. All of this for one simple picture submitted by mistake out of the tens of thousands of pictures on our site, which is on one wiki out of hundreds of thousands of wikis on our site -- that in total contain millions of pages of content.

Now of course the proponents of the new proposed laws would say that would never happen because the intent of the law is not to go after companies like Wikia, but the fact of the matter is, if the above scenario could happen, even if the chance is small, it is unlikely that a company like Wikia could survive. Wikia would would have to bear huge expense to try to filter everything questionable by having our community team review every single post and approve them before they go live -- yet we'd still be liable if something slipped through the process. The process would also likely ruin the user experience, because it would insert delays in posts going live and anything questionable would not be allowed. Finally, it's not likely investors would invest in Wikia (or other user generated content sites) because the financial risk would be too great. All of these factors would like drive Wikia, and many others out of business.

Beyond the impact to Wikia, it's also important to note that making DNS blacklisting a standard operating procedure in US law would put our government in the same camp as China, Iran, Malaysia and others who censor the web for their own reasons -- not the kind of company that the US should want to be grouped with.

One further note on the flawed nature of this legislation. who until recently were vocal supporters of the new proposed laws and helped write them, would be granted an exemption to the law so could not be prosecuted or shut down for violations -- a clearly unfair provision. This is why Wikia and many others including Wikipedia have chosen to move their domains from GoDaddy to other registrars.

I hope this blog post makes it clear why Wikia does not support SOPA and PIPA legislation. We are open to any new legislation that finds the right mix of further protecting the rights of copyright owners and user generated content sites like Wikia without changing the fundamental architecture of the internet, but the proposed legislation is not it.

Please take a moment to contact your US representatives and tell them you oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect-IP Act (PIPA).

Craig Palmer, CEO of Wikia