Wikipedia plans 24-hour blackout as protest

The popular online encyclopedia will go black for a day in protest of US legislation it says will harm Internet freedom.

January 17, 2012 11:31
2 minute read.
Wikipedia blackout.

Wikipedia blackout 311. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Internet users hoping to settle a debate, get a primer for a research paper or fill in knowledge gaps had better do it quickly. Wikipedia, the popular user-written free Internet encyclopedia, will blackout its site for 24 hours starting at 05:00 UTC Wednesday in protest of pending US anti-piracy legislation, which it says will impinge on Internet freedom.

Wikipedia says the legislation, called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US House of Representatives and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the US Senate, "will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States."

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The decision to blackout the website in protest for a day emerged from online discussions including over 1800 "Wikipedians," active members in Wikipedia's online community.

The legislation, which had appeared to be on a fast track for approval by Congress, appears likely to be scaled back or jettisoned entirely in the wake of critical comments over the weekend from the White House, people familiar with the matter said.

The proposed laws have been a major priority for entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical firms and many industry groups, who say it is critical to curbing online piracy that costs them billions of dollars a year.

The legislation is designed to shut down access to overseas websites that traffic in stolen content or counterfeit goods.

Internet companies have furiously opposed the legislation and have ramped up their lobbying efforts in recent months, arguing the legislation would undermine innovation and free speech rights and compromise the functioning of the Internet.

In addition to Wikipedia several popular websites, including the social media site Reddit, have vowed to black out their sites in protest, while Internet advocates called for a boycott of any companies that support the legislation.

With public sentiment on the bill shifting in recent weeks and an implicit veto threat now emerging from the White House, Congressional staffers are resigning themselves to writing replacement language or possibly entirely new bills.

The White House said in a blog post over the weekend that it wouldn't support "legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Three key section of the existing legislation seem likely to remain, a person familiar with the matter says. They comprise provisions aimed at getting search engines to disable links to foreign infringing sites; provisions that cut off advertising services to those sites; and provisions that cut off payment processing.

The debate seems likely to intensify in the coming weeks. The White House said it would soon host a conference call among opponents of the existing bill.

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