Wikipedia announced that will black out its website on Wednesday to protest against anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced on Twitter that the popular community-based online encyclopedia would shut down its English versions for a full 24 hours.
A link to the formal announcement confirmed the decision after 1,800 Wikipedians discussed what action to take against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECTIP (PIPA).
SOPA and the Protect Intellectual Property Act pending in Congress are designed to crack down on sales of pirated U.S. products overseas.
Supporters say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs. Critics say the legislation is too broad and could hurt the technology industry and infringe on free-speech rights.
Jimmy Wales said in a statement: “Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation.
“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take – and 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.”
According to a press release, Wikipedia users have discussed for more than a month whether it should react to the legislation and, in the past few days, tried to decide how.
The foundation behind the site, Wikimedia, said it collected input from users over a period of 72 hours before making its final decision on Monday evening based on that feedback.
“This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation,” a statement on the Wikimedia Foundation website reads.
“The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a <<blackout>> of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.”
A large-scale blackout is expected from midnight Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday until midnight on Wednesday.
“We are looking at a powerful protest,” said Jay Walsh, spokesman for the foundation.
Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others have also questioned the legislation and said it poses a serious risk to the industry. Several online communities such as Reddit, Boing Boing and others have announced plans to go blackout in protest.
Wikipedia is considering several different forms of response, from a banner across the top of the page to a blackout in certain areas, up to a worldwide shutdown, said Jay Walsh.
If Wikipedia opts for a blackout, it would be the largest and most well-known website to do so.
“It’s not a muscle that is normally flexed,” added Jay Walsh.
As the Washington Post reports, Jimmy Wales expects an estimated 25million daily visitors to be affected by a Wikipedia blackout.
The Obama administration has also raised concerns about the legislation and said over the weekend that it will work with Congress on legislation to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy, security and innovation in the Internet.
THE BACKGROUND BEHIND SOPA & PIPA
The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in Congress – are designed to crack down on sales of pirated U.S. products overseas – has pit internet giants, consumer groups and freedom of speech advocates against film studios and record labels.
The House bill (SOPA) would allow a private party to go straight to a website’s advertising and payment providers and request they sever ties.
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.