A statement on the recent Slowtwitch outage

As many of you may have noticed, our site was down yesterday - January 18 - for several hours. This outage was the result of damage to a main fiber optic connection that affected not only Slowtwitch, but also many other companies hosted by servers in Vancouver, which is a popular spot for data centers since the cooler year-round climate keeps air conditioning bills lower and also because there is a substantial infrastructure of fiber optic connections that normally provide robust protection against outages. The precise source of the damage is not yet clear - apparently an explosion of some kind drove rebar into a junction box holding the cables, but the cause of the explosion is not yet known, nor is it yet clear why backup plans relying on alternate fiber lines did not work, but our excellent hosting provider, who has an almost flaweless track record, is investigating for us.

The outage came on a day that some of the more tech-enthusiast readers among you may recognize as being one on which several of the major community-driven websites on the Internet, most notably Wikipedia, Reddit, and BoingBoing, voluntarily took part in a “day of darkness” as a protest to two bills currently in the US Congress - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate. These bills are largely the result of lobbying efforts by the two major media organizations in the US - the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), which have seen their wares pirated and shared all over the Internet. The bills received support from a variety of other companies, including several software makers (such as Apple) and others Internet-related entities. While we here at Slowtwitch support efforts to curb online piracy, the excessively draconian nature of these bills and the unreasonable power granted to federal judges would have unreasonably affected the very way the Internet functions. The basic premise of the bills was that sites found to be hosting pirated material could be shut down by government order by affecting DNS records, which means that - for example - typing in www.slowtwitch.com into your browser would give the same result that many of you saw yesterday - some variation of “the domain ‘slowtwitch.com’ could not be found.” For lack of a better analogy, think of it as the site being placed into exile, as opposed to just being thrown into jail. There was little-to-no due process involved in what was very much a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to regulation.

In a stroke of irony, one of the primary sponsors of the bill, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, actually failed to properly credit the creator of the background image on his official website; the photographer DJ Schulte had made the image free for use under a creative commons license, which required acknowledgement that he was the owner of the copyright. According to Rep. Smith’s bill, Schulte could have requested that the congressman’s website be shut down, and Schulte would be entitled to take legal action against the congressman as well. As victims of copyright infringement and IP theft on several occasions, we certainly understand and support the need for regulation. But that regulation needs to have the best interest of the consumer at heart. Regulation should serve “the greater good,” not a small group of influential lobbyists. I don’t think any among you would say that there is a valid and legitimate role served by those sites whose only purpose is to facilitate the illegal distribution of copyrighted material, and we support efforts to curb such sites, but the language of the bills in the Congress was too far reaching in its scope and too heavy handed in its method of enforcement.

As a site whose lifeblood is its vibrant reader forum, we were especially concerned. We could have been subject to legal action and the shutting down of our site simply because a forum member posted some copyrighted content. While this has happened - and will likely continue to happen - we always try to take steps to remove such content and to protect the intellectual property and copyrights of others from violation on our site. Because of how close to home this particular issue was to our business, we had considered joining Wikipedia and others in a “day of darkness.” For better or worse, something or someone decided to do it for us. While we would have liked to have had the chance to warn you all and to make this statement before it happened, it seemed somewhat fitting that the outage was thrust upon us, as that is precisely how such an outage might occur if SOPA or PIPA was to pass into law.

If you have not already done so, consider how it feels to type in the URL of a site you frequent and to be greeted by nothing but a spinning wheel and then a browser error. That is not the future that I think any of us wants. Regulations should be designed to protect the integrity of something as valuable as the Internet, not to destroy it. I encourage you to add your voice to the many who have spoken out against SOPA and PIPA by signing any of the various online petitions against it, including one on Google.com at google.com/takeaction or by sending the petitions on Change.org to your congressmen and senators.

You have our most sincere apologies for the outage, and we are working to ensure that it does not happen again. We’d appreciate it if you would do your part to make sure we all aren’t forced into such outages by acts like SOPA and PIPA.