Wikipedia will black out its English-language version Web site today to protest anti-piracy legislation under consideration in the US Congress, the foundation behind the popular community-based online encyclopedia said in a statement on Monday night.
The Web site will go dark for 24 hours in an unprecedented move that brings added muscle to a growing base of critics of the legislation. Wikipedia is considered one of the Internet’s most popular Web sites, with millions of visitors daily.
“If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international Web sites inside the United States,” the Wikimedia foundation said.
The Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act under consideration in the US Senate are designed to crack down on sales of pirated US products overseas.
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 cybersecurity for companies and hinder domain access rights.
The most controversial provision is in the US House of Representatives bill, which would enable US authorities to “blacklist” sites that are alleged to distribute pirated content. That would essentially cut off portions of the Internet to all US users. However, congressional leaders appear to be backing off this provision.
Internet companies, such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, eBay, AOL and others have spoken out against the legislation and said it threatened the industry’s livelihood. Several online communities, such as Reddit, Boing Boing and others have announced plans to go dark in protest as well.
US President Barack Obama’s administration also raised concerns about the legislation over the weekend and said it would work with Congress on legislation to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression, privacy, security and innovation in the Internet.
Wikipedia’s decision to go dark brings the issue into a much brighter spotlight. A group of Wikipedia users have discussed for more than a month whether it should react to the legislation.
Over the past few days, a group of more than 1,800 volunteers who work on the site and other users considered several forms of online protest, including banner ads and a global blackout of the site, the foundation said. Ultimately, the group supported the decision to black out the English version of the site.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who first announced the move on his Twitter account on Monday, said the bills were a threat to the free, open and secure Web.
Wikipedia is also requesting that readers contact members of the US Congress about the bill during the blackout.
“I am personally asking everyone who cares about freedom and openness on the Internet to contact their Senators and Representative,” Wales said.
“One of the things we have learned recently during the Arab Spring events is that the Internet is a powerfully effective tool for the public to organize and have their voices heard,” he said.