No good deed goes unpunished

/Clare Boothe Luce, Billy Wilder, John P. Grier, Andrew W. Mellon, or Oscar Wilde/

The furore caused by the SOPA/PIPA bill earlier this month was (still is, really) unprecedented. The heated debate between the liberal information lovers and the slightly less tolerant supporters of the act that would both drop a nuke on online piracy as well as (possibly) be used to back censorship in the future could only be compared to the Bush vs. Gore standoff of 2000. There is no point describing the act and its potential consequences in this post, if you don’t fancy reading the New York Times’ piece linked above, watch the TED Talk on the subject. The SOPA/PIPA undertaking is merely the latest battle in an on-going war. However, this time the consequences of the temporary retreat of the copyright owners may go far beyond feisty interviews on late night shows:  in a presidential election year, the traditionally democratic Hollywood swore not to support Barack Obama and his administration that opposed the bill. This note, however, is not about politics; I would like to say a few words on the commercial effect of the protests.


After Pierre Far, the now famous Google analyst, posted instructions on the “correct” blocking of sites that chose to support the demonstration, a lot has been written on the relative safety of the 503 HTTP status code method. For those of you who don’t remember the status code definitions by heart, 503 temporarily blocks access to website’s content. The most extreme way of protest adopted by the English speaking Wikipedia and Reddit, it drew massive amount of attention to the outcry, making it more than a bumper sticker competition. For the less prominent participants, however, 503 could have meant less positive PR and more pain: although Google did set its Googlebot to crawl slower on the day of the protest, the robot could not be turned off. That means that the websites crawled while protesting with 503 would lose positions on Google ranking. Imagine the irony: you try to be a decent freedom-loving citizen, peacefully acting out within the vicinity of your website (blog), following the call of industry’s leaders and where does it leave you? Losing ranking positions you shed blood, sweat and money to fight for. The online rally went well, with no apparent casualties apart from president Obama’s campaign fund. It is a shame that Google didn’t follow the advice and went for a Malevich-style sticker instead. Imagine Google down for a day. Now that would be something to tell the kids.

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