On Wednesday, searchers will find a site-wide Wikipedia blackout if they go looking to research information on the Net’s largest free encyclopedia. Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, has announced a total shutdown of the site on Wednesday as part of a huge SOPA protest. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is one of two bills currently before congress as part of an effort to stop illegal copying and sharing of copyrighted content on the Internet. SOPA supporters include companies like Ford Motor Company and Electronic Arts, Sony Pictures & Music Entertainment, Dow Chemical Company, Walt Disney Company, Time Warner, Viacom and Walmart.

 

While on the surface, bills to stop illegal copyright violations might seem like a positive thing, opponents say the bills go to far and could damage the right to free speech and freedom of expression. According to protesters, SOPA (H.R. 3261 Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (S. 968 (PROTECT IP Act) “would seriously undermine the effective mechanism Congress enacted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to provide a safe harbor for Internet companies that act in good faith to remove infringing content from their sights.”

The bills before Congress are supposedly primarily aimed at shutting down “rogue” sites, many of them based on foreign soil, that steal and distribute copyrighted material such as music and movies. Opponents of the bills, however, say that they could be used to shut down domestic sites if their users post copyright-protected content on them. Wikipedia, among a host of other major web presences, is saying no by going black for a SOPA strike on Wednesday.

A discussion between 1,800 Wikipedians eventually led to the decision to go for a full Wikipedia blackout for the SOPA strike protest. “This is going to be wow,” Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, said via Twitter. “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”

In addition to Wikipedia, major websites and Internet services AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo! and Zynga have joined in the SOPA protest — although not all of them will be doing a blackout. Back in November, the coalition of Internet giants placed a full page advertisement letter to Congress protesting SOPA and PIPA in the New York Times.

A host of other sites large and small have signed on to participate in the SOPA strike protest in some way, including: TwitPic, VanillaForums, FreakOutNation, WordPress, Mozilla, Reddit, and the icanhazcheezburger network. Boing Boing, Reddit and the icanhazcheezburger network are among the sites that will all be going dark for the Wednesday SOPA protest. Google plans on featuring a link on the home page on Wednesday highlighting the issue.

“The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy,” Reddit.com posted in an announcement on the site. “Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is.”

“All Cheezburger sites will also be instituting a blackout on January 18th to protest SOPA and PIPA [Protect IP Act],” icanhascheezburger network founder and CEO Ben Huh announced via Twitter. The network, which averages over 20 million hits a month, includes such sites as I Can Has Cheezburger, FAIL Blog, The Daily What and Know Your Meme.

Even the nefarious hacker collective Anonymous have issued a statement on Twitter that they would be suspending action and going silent on Wednesday for the SOPA protest. We’re not, however, quite sure that having Anonymous failing to wreak havoc in the world for a day is going to be a negative blow to Congress…



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