Internet encyclopedia Wikipidia is to stage a 24-hour black out on its English language sites in protest against proposed anti-piracy legislation. The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), if passed, would allow U.S government and asserted owners of content to close down sites connected to piracy.
Wikipedia president Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter that his website will join Reddit and other online businesses in an internet blackout scheduled for January 18. Speaking from his Twitter account, Wales warned students ‘Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday #SOPA.’ The blackout, commencing at midnight EST, is hoped to create greater opposition to the piracy bill. Site visitors will be met with information relating to SOPA and the corresponding Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and will ask readers to urge local congressmen to vote against both bills.
Responding to two petitions against the bills, the White House stated that they will not “support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The bill does however, have considerable support from Hollywood and the music industry. Another supporter, News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch responded, via Twitter, to the news from The White House, “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”
Wikipedia’s commitment to the blackout was previously debatable, but they are hoping that the closure of the site, which attracts more than 25 million users on a daily basis, will show their displeasure at the proposed bills. Wales confirmed that the decision to join the blackout was reached by a vote amongst writers and editors involved in the service. A long list of sites, including Cheezburger, VideoGameGeneration, and Major League Gaming are expected to take part in the online demonstration. Internet giants such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Ebay have expressed their opposition to the bills and it would appear that the online community is right behind them. A recent boycott of web hosting site GoDaddy was successful in forcing the company to withdraw its support for SOPA.
A public announcement from Wikipedia on January 16, stated “On January 18, 2012, in an unprecedented decision, the Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, in protest against proposed legislation in the United States—the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and PROTECT-IP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States. Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a “blackout” of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.”
Further comment from Jimmy Wales reiterated support from the site's contributors. “Today, Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation. This is an extraordinary action for our community to take—and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”
The blackout is an unprecedented move for the English version site. Its Italian site went dark briefly in protest of an unsuccessful censorship bill put forward by Berlusconi’s government. The Wikimedia Foundation have expressed that the company is about openness and that the decision to go dark is not one that they have taken lightly.
Spero Correspondent Jude Freeman writes for The Cutting Edge News and resides in London.