According to Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, laws to prevent online piracy are working just fine. Just look at the FBI’s big bust of file-sharing site Megaupload last January, he said in an interview.
Efforts around the world to create new Internet laws are too often overbearing and can hurt users, he added. Wales’s thoughts are supported by tech firms, but frustrate Hollywood and media firms that are fighting against rampant illegal distribution of their content on the Internet.
Just Tuesday, Wikipedia went dark in Russia in protest of Internet laws that would allow the government to blacklist certain Web sites. The online community’s protest of U.S. anti-piracy laws late last year helped strike down the Stop Online Piracy Act, aimed at blocking sites that engaged in illegal distribution of copyrighted material.
“Anything that causes it to be difficult for the volunteers to share information... is an anathema to us. We will always be quite keen on these issues,” Wales said during a wide-ranging discussion with reporters and editors at The Washington Post. Wales is in Washington D.C. for the annual gathering of Wikipedia editors and contributors called Wikimania.
But what really gets under his skin, and what may be feeding piracy on the Web, is the increasingly closed nature of tech systems that make it hard to move movies, music and books across devices. Just recently, he wanted to buy “Star Wars” for his 11-year-old daughter, but the Blu-ray disk he bought in London didn’t work on his player in the United States. He turned to iTunes to download, but the title wasn’t available.
The business battles between Hollywood and tech firms is making it too difficult for consumers, he says.
“Large scale commercial piracy is a problem,” Wales said. But if you can’t find “Star Wars” from the mobile marketplace, it becomes even more tempting to download or stream illegally, he says.
“What we need to do is to be realistic about how consumers want to use media and pay for it,” he said.
So it worries him that tech titans, such as Apple, are creating an increasingly closed ecosystem, where every piece of software, hardware and content is bought from one company and locked into one system of technology. Companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon may be getting too powerful, he suggested.
“This is a legitimate concern. Net neutrality was a theoretical threat, but meanwhile this is something we should be concerned about and why Android will win over (Apple’s) iOS,” Wales said. “Android is open, and Apple is not. Apple risks making itself irrelevant.”