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Wikipedia Blackout Over SOPA? Founder Weighs Protesting Anti-Piracy Bill

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 12/12/11 07:08 PM ET Updated: 12/12/11 07:23 PM ET

Wikipedia Blackout Sopa

Enjoy it while you can: Wikipedia could temporarily go off the air.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has asked users to weigh in on a potential Wikipedia blackout in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a controversial bill targeting piracy that would give U.S. law enforcement sweeping powers to crack down websites and online services that facilitate copyright infringement.

Though Wales noted that there are no immediate plans to temporarily blank out Wikipedia pages, he launched an informal straw poll querying whether users would support such a move, noting that Italy's parliament backed down on a privacy law after the Italian Wikipedia took all of its pages offline. Wales described SOPA as "a much worse law" than Italy's wiretapping bill.

Wales wrote on his Wikipedia "talk page" on December 10:

A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of "Stop Online Piracy Act' is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track. I may be attending a meeting at the White House on Monday (pending confirmation on a couple of fronts) along with executives from many other top Internet firms, and I thought this would be a good time to take a quick reading of the community feeling on this issue. My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case. There are obviously many questions about whether the strike should be geotargetted (US-only), etc. (One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government.) At the same time, it's of course a very very big deal to do something like this, it is unprecedented for English Wikipedia.

So, this is a straw poll. Please vote either 'support' or 'oppose' with a reason, and try to keep wide-ranging discussion to the section below the poll.

To be clear, this is NOT a vote on whether or not to have a strike. This is merely a straw poll to indicate overall interest. If this poll is firmly 'opposed' then I'll know that now. But even if this poll is firmly in 'support' we'd obviously go through a much longer process to get some kind of consensus around parameters, triggers, and timing.

Of the over 80 users who weighed in on Wales' poll, the majority expressed support for the online protest, though many had reservations and suggested it was not the e-encyclopedia's place to become involved in political matters.

"Support only as last resort," wrote user David.Monniaux. "Such kind of action works best only if exceptional, and thus should be implemented only in exceptional circumstances, that is, when the proposed law would greatly hamper the operations of Wikimedia projects (e.g. a US law removing the safe harbor status of hosting providers, and thus making the Foundation legally liable for any problem in Wikipedia content)."

Another user, Neo139, offered only "weak" support and echoed David.Monniaux's assertion that the blackout should be pursued "only as last resort."

"It will be a good chance to let the US people aware of SOPA and also to make everyone remember why they need us. It should very clear that this is community driven rather than WMF decision. But this powerful tool, should only be used once, only if Wikipedia is in danger," Neo139 wrote. "This maybe too much, too soon. I think something like changing the Wikipedia logo for something else with a link to a statement is more appropriate."

Internet companies including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Zynga have decried SOPA and argued in an open letter to members of the Senate and House of Representatives that the bill would "pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation's cybersecurity."

Google chairman Eric Schmidt has blasted SOPA as a form of censorship.

"The solutions are draconian. There's a bill that would require ISPs to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked,"Schmidt said during a recent speech at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

What would you make of a Wikipedia blackout? Do you think it would be effective? Annoying? Weigh in below.

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