January 18, 2012

Wikipedia and Other Web Sites Go Dark to Protest Proposed Law

Don't bother looking for information on Wikipedia Wednesday—the English-language version of site will be down until Thursday.

The Internet encyclopedia, a nonprofit, is shutting itself off from public view to protest two bills pending in Congress that critics say could "break the Internet." Other nonprofits are also taking steps to protest the measures.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in the House, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against Web sites that may be guilty of copyright infringement or selling counterfeit goods. Because search engines could be sued for hosting such content, they are likely to take them out of search results, and service providers such as cable and telephone companies, will probably block the sites to avoid legal trouble. The Senate is considering Protect IP, a similar bill to protect intellectual property.

The bills' supporters say the legislation is needed to help protect copyright holders.

Opponents say the proposals are an attempt to censor information on the Internet and some sites, including Wikipedia, are going dark today in protest.

"What we'll see is what the Internet could look like if SOPA passes," says Holly Ross, executive director of the Nonprofit Technology Network, which opposes the bill. "It will be interesting to see how many of us can make it through the day without referencing Wikipedia at least once."

The protest could affect other sites that nonprofits use daily, such as

Many of the Internet's biggest sites—including Google, Facebook, and Twitter—publicly oppose the bills but will not be joining the blackout. Google plans to add a special message to its home page on Wednesday about the bills.

Several other nonprofits are joining the Nonprofit Technology Network in opposing the bills, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greenpeace, and Reporters Without Borders. Ms. Ross said her organization plans to take down its blog Wednesday in protest but will leave most of the organization's site up.

"I think that nonprofits should definitely be engaged in this," Ms. Ross says. "There are all kinds of unintended consequences, and congress just isn't a body that understands technology or should be regulating technology at this level."