Just as we predicted only yesterday, Wikipedia has proclaimed a famous “victory” over something that was never going to happen.
The site launched a high-profile campaign to “Save the Freedom of Panorama”, after an amendment was tacked onto a European Parliament report produced by the Parliament’s only Pirate MEP. The amendment had no legislative weight, but that didn’t stop Wikipedia donning a superhero costume and flying into full-on Save The Internet mode – something it loves to do.
Teenaged* Pirate MEP Julia Reda provoked the furore in the first place by insisting that a Freedom of Panorama exception – which most European members already implement – should be “harmonised”. Reda shows little understanding of how copyright works, but whatever it is, she knows she sure doesn’t like it: a deadly combination.
Reda’s proposal in a report to Parliament prompted a cack-handed reaction from a Dutch MEP, who feared its ambiguity would have unintended consequences, and tabled an amendment wishing that French-style Panorama copyright should apply to the whole of Europe. However, neither proposal nor the counter-amendment have any legislative weight. The European Parliament cannot write legislation and most of its resolutions are thrown in the bin by the European Commission – such as the recent vote to “break up Google”.
Wikipedia proclaims "We've Won"
As Wikipedian ‘Sam Blacketer’ (pseudonym), a former Arbcom member, tried in vain to point out on the site: "It's simply advice to the European Commission.”
He explained that the amendment would have to be written afresh by the European Council, then be passed by a majority of states which already have Panorama exceptions, then be approved by Parliament and then be written into each country's statue book.
“I really do not know why there should be all this fuss about a vague paragraph opposed by the rapporteur which finds its way into an obscure committee report due to the usual horsetrading among members, which is incredibly unlikely to happen ever,” Blacketer continued. But on Wikipedia, being right means you can be outvoted by the ignorant or the narcissistic.
Now the MEP responsible for the nutty Panorama amendment says he’ll withdraw it anyway, hence the victory proclamations. For good measure, European Commissioner Gunther "H-dot" Oettinger pointed out on Twitter that Freedom of Panorama was a member state's right that the Commission had no intention of taking away.
Wait, have we just misled millions of Wikipedia users?
The short-lived shitstorm has caused Wikipedians to raise questions about social responsibility and honesty on one of the world’s most popular and trusted websites.
For example, Wikipedia’s Save the Freedom of Panorama campaign page stated that Wikipedia’s work would be impossible in member states where there is no Freedom of Panorama, like France. But Wikipedia is awash with “illegal” French panoramas. If Wikipedia simply ignores Panorama rules today, why wouldn’t it continue to ignore Panorama rules in the future, critics ask?
“One of the buildings they're showing blacked out is the Millau viaduct in France, where there is no freedom of panorama today. That hasn't prevented Wikipedia from illustrating the article on the viaduct at all, in the French or English Wikipedia. In the French Wikipedia, the picture of the viaduct has a copyright notice attached to the file, that's all,” Wikipedian Andreas Kolbe points out.
Then there’s the question of whether a supposedly “neutral” encyclopedia should be engaging in political campaigns. Wikipedia created huge publicity by drawing attention to the SOPA anti-piracy legislation in the USA in early 2012 and took credit for helping kill the bill. The site went offline for a day and was replaced by a stark warning: “Without a free internet, Wikipedia cannot exist as we know it. Please call your representative or Senator and urge them to vote against SOPA and PIPA [our emphasis].”
Only months later did a senior member of the Wikimedia Foundation admit that this was a lie. SOPA put new obligations on search engines, and Wikipedia is not a search engine.
“Maybe SOPA was a ‘serious threat to freedom of expression on the Internet’, and worth fighting against, but it wasn't a threat to Wikipedia's existence,” explained the Foundation's Tim Starling in June 2012.
The SOPA threat, just like the Panorama scare, was bogus.
For all of its complex rules and procedures, truth and honesty seem to be discarded when the narcisstic attraction of "Saving the Internet" looms into view. ®
* Or thereabouts.