If you need to find something on Wikipedia, you’d better do it today. Beginning Wednesday, the free online encyclopedia behemoth, along with websites such as Reddit and Boing Boing will go dark to protest two Congressional bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA.)
According to The New York Times, the controversial bills “have attracted fierce opposition from many corners of the technology industry. Opponents say several of the provisions in the legislation, including those that may force search engines and Internet service providers to block access to Web sites that offer or link to copyrighted material, would stifle innovation, enable censorship, and tamper with the livelihood of businesses on the Internet.”
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has been updating his Twitter and Facebook in the hours leading up to the Internet blackout, which will begin at midnight ET, sending out posts to followers such as, “Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday,” “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!” and “All US Citizens: #WikipediaBlackout means nothing unless you call your Senators. Do it now! Give friends the number too!” (The White House responded to the growing SOPA opposition over the weekend, in a statement which read, “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. 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.”)
While the blackout is only planned for U.S. visitors to the massively popular website (Wales estimated to the NYT that “460 million people around the world visited the site each month, and he estimated that the blackout could reach as many as 100 million people”) the Italian version Wikipedia held its own lockout back in October in response to a similar bill.
Though Twitter, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, Mozilla, and Google (whose executive chairman Eric Schmidt called SOPA “draconian”) joined to write an open letter to Congress’ Committee on the Judiciary back in November regarding the bills, the websites have not joined Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing, and others for the blackout. Meanwhile, some other websites that support the opposition against SOPA and PIPA are participating in different ways. Blogging platform WordPress will provide a widget that will provide users with a banner to raise awareness about the fight.
Markham Erickson, the executive director of NetCoalition, a trade group for Internet firms, told ABC News regarding Wednesday’s movement against the bills, “There isn’t one technology company or venture capitalist who supports these bills,” adding, “An ‘Internet blackout’ would obviously be both drastic and unprecedented.”
UPDATE:Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc., released a statement regarding the impending blackouts in protest of SOPA and PIPA: ” It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests. A so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this ‘blackout’ to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”