Wikipedia has always been subtly political, said Jimmy Wales in a conversation with Pavel Durov. But last week’s blackout of Wikipedia in protest of America’s proposed SOPA bill was possibly the overtly political thing Wikipedia has ever done.
Mr Wales used his time on stage to keep up the conversation about America’s misguided attempts at legislation. Speaking directly to the motion picture industry, his message was simple:
Let people buy what they want to buy.
And to Congress:
Poorly designed laws are bad for the entire industry.
To illustrate his first point, Mr Wales told a story of how he wanted to show his daughter the first Star Wars movie. “I bought a Blue Ray disc in the UK. It doesn’t play in the US. I tried to pay for it again by downloading it on iTunes but they don’t sell it there.” The film industry, he said, makes it so difficult for people to legally obtain and pay for movies that it’s often easier to download it somewhere for free. “Digital distribution platforms are an incredible opportunity for the movie industry,” he said.
Instead of pushing for draconian laws like SOPA, which potentially inspire similar laws in other countries and affect small business across the world, Hollywood should consider talking to people with a little more humility, said a visibly emotional Mr Wales. “When you see Rupert Murdoch on Twitter calling Google a pirate, that’s just insane.”
Other laws in the works also came in for criticism from Mr Wales. Anything “mandating that we keep more and more records on people is probably a very bad idea,” he said.
Few internet entrepreneurs can match Mr Wales’s charm or are as likable. What he had to say this morning is important not just for the tech industry but for the future of the internet, of free speech, and of society itself.