Wikipedia to shut down 1 day to protest SOPA

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia will black out the English-language version of its website tomorrow to protest anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress, the foundation behind the online encyclopedia said in a statement last night.

The website will go dark for 24 hours in an unprecedented move that brings added muscle to a growing base of critics of the legislation. Wikipedia is considered one of the Internet’s most popular websites, with millions of visitors daily.

“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,” the Wikimedia foundation said.

The Stop Online Piracy Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act under consideration in the Senate are designed to crack down on sales of pirated U.S. products overseas.

Supporters include the film and music industry, which often sees its products sold illegally. They say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.

Critics say the legislation could hurt the technology industry and infringe on free-speech rights. Among their concerns are provisions that would weaken cyber-security for companies and hinder domain-access rights.

The most controversial provision is in the House bill, which would have enabled federal authorities to “blacklist” sites that are alleged to distribute pirated content. That would essentially cut off portions of the Internet to all U.S. users. But congressional leaders appear to be backing off this provision.

Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, eBay, AOL and others have spoken out against the legislation and said it threatens the industry’s livelihood. Several online communities such as Reddit, Boing Boing and others have announced plans to go dark in protest as well.

The Obama administration also raised concerns about the legislation over the weekend and said it would work with Congress on legislation to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy, security and innovation in the Internet.

White House officials said in a blog post that it would not support pending legislation that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk” or undermines the global Internet, cautioning the measure could discourage innovation and startup businesses.

“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” the White House said.

Reuters reported that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is sponsoring the Senate bill, said on Jan. 12 that he would propose amending it to say the ramifications of blocking access to a site would be studied before the law went into effect.

On Jan. 13, Reuters said, House bill sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he planned to remove a provision requiring service providers to block access to infringing foreign websites.

Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others have questioned the legislation, warning in a Nov. 15 letter that it would force new liabilities and mandates on law-abiding technology companies and require them to monitor websites. “We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity,” the letter stated.

Wikipedia’s decision to go dark brings the issue into a much brighter spotlight. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia who first announced the move on his Twitter account yesterday, said the bills were a threat to the free, open and secure web.

“The whole thing is just a poorly designed mess,” Wales said in an e-mail to the Associated Press.

Wikipedia said it would shut down access from midnight Eastern Standard Time tonight until midnight tomorrow.

“Wikipedia is about being open,” said Jay Walsh, spokesman for the Wikimedia foundation. “We are not about shutting down and protesting. It’s not a muscle that is normally flexed.”

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