Wikipedia, one of the world’s busiest websites, will black out its English language version for 24 hours on Wednesday in protest at controversial legislation currently in the US congress. The site will be offline from 06:00 CET, the first time it has taken such action.
Wikipedia will be joined by other social news websites Reddit and Boing Boing but not by the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter, who oppose the proposed laws but declined to black out. Twitter boss Dick Costolo said in a Tweet: “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish”. In a later Twitter exchange with Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, Costolo confirmed that he was only referring to Twitter in his previous post and was not judging Wikipedia’s decision.
The giants of Silicon Valley are trying to stop the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), both of which are currently being examined by law-makers in Washington. According to supporters of the legislation, the acts are designed to prevent intellectual property – such as films and music – that comes out of the US being illegally pirated overseas. Under SOPA and PIPA, sites suspected of internet piracy could be shut down and it would become illegal for advertisers or internet providers to do business with them.
Wikipedia and other SOPA critics argue that the laws are too far-reaching, violate the right to free speech and threaten the future of the internet industry. Wikipedia argues on its own site that the proposed laws would “seriously damage the free and open Internet.”
The White House appears to be listening to the protests of Wikipedia. Administration officials said in a statement: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”