Wikipedia to participate in 'blackout' protest against US anti-piracy proposals

Out-Law News | 18 Jan 2012 | 9:13 am | 2 min. read

Internet users will not have access to the English-language version of Wikipedia today after the operators decided to participate in a "blackout" protest against proposed new anti-piracy laws in the US.

Users trying to access the encyclopaedia pages will instead be greeted by messages of protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (78-page / 250KB PDF) (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (30-page / 60KB PDF) (PIPA) which have been drafted in the US.

Wikipedia will join user-generated news links site Reddit and a number of other websites in conducting the 24 hour blackout beginning at 05:00 GMT on Wednesday. The decision was made after more than 1800 Wikipedia users had contributed to a debate about the best ways that the operators of Wikipedia could protest against the draft bills.

“Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation," Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, said in a statement by Wikipedia operator the Wikimedia Foundation.

"This is an extraordinary action for our community to take - 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," he said.

The Wikimedia Foundation statement said that, if passed, SOPA and PIPA would "harm the free and open internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States".

Under the SOPA proposals copyright owners would be able to obtain court orders that force internet services providers (ISPs) to block access to copyright-infringing websites. Under the law search engines would also be forced to "take technically feasible and reasonable measures ... designed to prevent the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, or a portion of such site specified in the order, from being served as a direct hypertext link". The proposed law would also force "payment network providers", such as credit card companies, and advertising networks, to stop their cooperation with infringing websites.

PIPA would enable the US Government to obtain court orders "against the non-domestic domain name used by an internet site dedicated to infringing activities" if the website is used in the US, "conducts business directed to" US residents and "harms" US IP rights holders. The orders would force the sites, which are defined under the draft laws as having "no significant use" other than for infringement, to "cease and desist from undertaking" further infringement.

Under PIPA court orders can also be issued to domain name operators, "information location tools", such as search engines, "financial transaction providers" and advertisers to force them to block exposure to, or cease business with, the copyright-infringing sites.

The advocates of the proposed new laws, including those in the creative industries, believe the measures are necessary to prevent foreign-based websites stealing US intellectual property. But, despite supporting the "stated goals" of the draft legislation, some major online firms, including Google and Facebook, wrote to Congressmen in November expressing their opposition to the drafts.

A mass of other online bloggers, consumer groups and website operators have also expressed their concern at the proposed laws.

On Saturday the US Government weighed in on the debate. In a blog post the White House said it would "not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet" and urged changes to the way both SOPA and PIPA are drafted.

Subsequently Lamar Smith, the Republican senator who is sponsoring SOPA, announced that provisions within the draft that enable "domain name system blocking" to be achieved would be removed, according to a report by The Register.