Wikipedia threatens blackout over privacy law

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has threatened Wikipedia will be turned off in protest against a US anti-piracy bill.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has proposed a Wikipedia blackout to protest an anti-piracy bill in the US.

On his personal space on the user-edited encyclopedia, Wales has raised the possibility of shutting down the English-speaking sections of Wikipedia, to try to prevent the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) from becoming US law.

SOPA is a bill that would allow rights holders to seek court orders against websites they accuse of copyright infringement, potentially having sites barred from search engines or forcing ISPs to block them.

The bill is predictably unpopular in online communities, who feel it would negatively impact the Internet as a whole, or introduce unhelpful levels of censorship. Google is one notable opponent of SOPA -- Yahoo, Facebook, eBay and Twitter are others.

Wales reckons powering down Wikipedia could put the willies up proponents of the bill, saying, "A global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government." He's asked fellow Wikipedia users whether there is interest in the idea.

Wales' thinking is inspired by the Italian Wikipedia community, who blanked all of the Italian version of the site for a short while in protest of a law. In that situation the Italian Parliament backed down.

"My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case."

While there's a huge amount of support for the idea on the discussion page, there are dissenting voices too, from those who feel Wikipedia shouldn't take sides in political situations, and those pointing out that English-speaking knowledge-seekers outside the US would be affected by a protest that doesn't involve their governments.

The thought of Wikipedia vanishing demonstrates how much power large websites could have, should they choose to wield them to political ends. Imagine if Google took its services offline for a day in protest.

Should sites go offline for political reasons? Is protesting SOPA a worthy cause? Tell us down in the comments, or on our Facebook wall.

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About the author

Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.

 

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