Wikipedia plans on undergoing a self-imposed blackout Jan. 18, in protest of proposed legislation that it says would harm a free and open Internet.
The legislation in question includes the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) before the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate. The bills are intended to curb online piracy by allowing copyright holders to block access to domestic and foreign Websites allegedly distributing illegal content. However, critics contend that blacklisting those Websites-and preventing advertisers from doing business with them-is nothing short of censorship.
Google has already pushed back against the legislation, which would potentially force it into a more police-style role with regard to Internet content. In turn, that provoked News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch, whose companies produce a significant percentage of the content pillaged by Web pirates, to fire off a Jan. 14 Tweet: "Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying."
Now Wikipedia is seeking to up the ante. "This is an extraordinary action for our community to take," Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, wrote in a Jan. 16 statement circulated by the organization, "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."
Executive-branch officials are also weighing in, sounding a note of caution about the legislation. "We must avoid creating new cyber-security risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet," U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra wrote in a co-authored note posted on the White House's Website. "Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet."
Nor could Wikipedia be the only Website protesting SOPA and PIPA by going dark. Reddit and Boing Boing are among the Websites reportedly considering whether to shut down for a limited time Jan. 18. And whatever the ultimate outcome of the legislation, the debate over piracy, censorship and expression isn't likely to fade anytime soon.