Today Wikipedia has shut down the English version of its website in protest against a planned anti-privacy law currently being considered by the US senate. The website is visited daily by tens of millions of users.
Jimmy Wales, the founder of the online encyclopaedia, has said that the decision to take the site down was a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and Protect Intelectual Property Act (Pipa) which, according to the US government, are efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites. In an open letter that sits in place of all Wikipedia content today, Wales says that “in our opinion, they do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet”.
The statement continues: “Nothing like this has ever happened before on the English Wikipedia. Wikipedians have chosen to black out the English Wikipedia for the first time ever, because we are concerned that SOPA and PIPA will severely inhibit people’s access to online information. This is not a problem that will solely affect people in the United States: it will affect everyone around the world.”
Wikipedia is edited by the online community, inviting users to submit content which is then scrutinised by both readers and a team of dedicated editors. The decision to conduct a 24-hour blackout was debated by Wikipedia’s 1,800-strong team of volunteers for the past three-days.
The change in law would effectively hold internet companies liable for links to sources of illegal downloads, and also for infringements of copyright.
Wikipedia contends that “SOPA and PIPA are badly drafted legislation that won’t be effective in their main goal (to stop copyright infringement), and will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet.”
For sites such as Wikipedia where content is largely user-generated, the laws will require immense self-policing and “the unnecessary blocking of entire sites.”
Wales writes: “Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.”
The internet company Google is also known to be concerned about the proposed law, but other media organisations such as News Corporation and NBCUniversal, are understood to support the new legislation.
If you urgently need to use Wikipedia today, Andrew Lih has posted to Storify on circumnavigating the blackout a three-step process under the heading ‘Coping with the blackout’. Wikipedia is also still available on smartphones.