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Wikipedia to 'Go Dark' in Protest of US Legislation

Wikipedia's English-language sites will shut down for 24 hours on Wednesday to protest "destructive legislation" in Congress.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 1/17/2012, 10:15 PM

Wikipedia will ‘black out’ tomorrow in protest at anti-piracy legislation under consideration in the US Congress.

English versions of Wikipedia are set to shut down for 24 hours on Wednesday to register objections by the Wikimedia Foundation to what it describes as the “destructive legislation” associated with the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

The legislation is touted as "cracking down" on sales of pirated US products overseas. However, critics say it could hurt the technology industry and infringes on free speech.

Founder Jimmy Wales on Monday tweeted his statement that such legislation “will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States”.

“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," Wales continued. "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."

Wikipedia administrators who facilitated the community’s 1800-strong discussion on the black out clarified the reasons why the black out would focus on English versions of the site.

“On careful review of this discussion, the closing administrators note the broad-based support for action from Wikipedians around the world, not just from within the United States," they said.

“The primary objection to a global blackout came from those who preferred that the blackout be limited to readers from the United States, with the rest of the world seeing a simple banner notice instead.

“We also noted that roughly 55% of those supporting a blackout preferred that it be a global one, with many pointing to concerns about similar legislation in other nations.

 Sue Gardner, Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, acknowledged that taking such a stand could be interpreted as “seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position”.

But she noted “although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not”. 

“[W]e depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression,” she is quoted as saying as part of the same statement.

“For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make sense of it.

“But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia.

“Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to.”

Critics of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act say they are draconian and that US lawmakers have allowed themselves to be co-opted by corporate - rather than democratic - interests.

The bills would allow copyright holders and the Department of Justice to effectively shut down web-sites they say are violating copyright via court order without actually suing for injunctive relief and proving their case in court.

Jerry Brito of TIME wrote, "Imagine if the U.K. created a blacklist of American newspapers that its courts found violated celebrities' privacy? Or what if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech?"

Similarly, the Center for Democracy and Technology warned, "If SOPA and PIPA are enacted, the US government must be prepared for other governments to follow suit, in service to whatever social policies they believe are important—whether restricting hate speech, insults to public officials, or political dissent." 

Available in 282 languages, Wikipedia contains more than 20 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of more than 100,000 people.

Wikipedia is not the only website to announce plans to shut down but is the most well-known - with an estimated 25 million visitors per day.