In an unprecedented form of protest, Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia which millions of people around the world rely on for an almost unlimited amount of information, is going
‘black’ today for a period of 24 hours.
Sending panic through high school and college campuses, warnings were sent out to students. “Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday,” urged Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Twitter. Soon after the site went down. (If you are truly desperate, Wikipedia is still up in in many other languages including French, Spanish and Russian.)
Google’s defiance, although less extreme, is still stunning; by placing a piece of virtual black tape across the iconic word Google on its home page they are make a statement about their fear that government regulators will silence the free speech which is so prevalent on the internet.
And from where does this fear arise? From the two legislative acts which are making their way through Congress; SOPA and PIPA.
Laws to Protect Entertainment Industry
Supported mostly by members of the entertainment industry, the two bills are targeting the illegal downloading and streaming of television programs and films. Techies however are worried that the legislation would give too much power to the government, allowing it to close down parts of the Internet without due process. This, they say will change the Internet’s ability to provide a platform for free speech in a fundamental way.
“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take,” Wikipedia’s Wales said earlier in the week about the blackout, adding, “…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.”
If nothing else, this unusual step that Wikipedia has taken, with the support of internet giants such as Facebook and Google, will alert millions of people to the debate. Wikipedia in English, according to Wales, has about 25 million visitors every day.
Boing Boing to Join
The tech web site Boing Boing is also joining the protest by going dark for 12 hours, leaving this message for their users.
“Boing Boing is offline today, because the US Senate is considering legislation that would certainly kill us forever. The legislation is called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), and would put us in legal jeopardy if we linked to a site anywhere online that had any links to copyright infringement.”
“This would unmake the Web, just as proposed in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). We don’t want that world. If you don’t want it either, visit AmericanCensorship.org for instructions on contacting your Senator. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on this and other issues central to your freedom online.”
Boring Sites Going Dark Too
Another site opposed to SOPA and PIPA is the Internet Archive. This esteemed website collaborates with such staid institutions as the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute to catalog documents, audio and video media and makes them available to the public. They will close down service for 12 hours on Wednesday, from 6am to 6pm Pacific Time.
“Legislation such as this directly affects libraries such as the Internet Archive, which collects, preserves, and offers access to cultural materials,” the Internet Archive said on its blog. “These bills would encourage the development of blacklists to censor sites with little recourse or due process. The Internet Archive is already blacklisted in China — let’s prevent the United States from establishing its own blacklist system.”