Wikipedia considering joining SOPA blackout protest

Although the Wikimedia Foundation has yet to make a formal decision, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has written that he's "in favor" of joining Reddit and other Web sites in shutting down on Wednesday to protest the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act. A decision should be made by Tuesday.

A bipartisan coalition in Congress is trying to push through the Stop Online Piracy Act, but a growing number of Web sites--including Wikipedia--appear poised to register strong protest the legislation.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Count Wikipedia among the growing number of sites that are likely to take action against SOPA.

As anger towards the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act grows, more and more people and organizations are joining the fight against the bipartisan Congressional legislation. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

Earlier this week, the news site Reddit announced it would shut down for 12 hours on January 18 in a bid to make its displeasure known about SOPA and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. And now, there are strong signs that Wikipedia may express its community's protest sentiment, although it's not yet known in what form.

Other sites, including the Cheezburger Network, home to massively popular Internet meme sites like I Can Has Cheezburger, have also said they will shut down on January 18.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales Wikimedia Foundation

And the tide may be turning against SOPA. Perhaps in recognition of the growing number of Web sites protesting the legislation, Twitter users adding "STOP SOPA" banners to their profile images, and many other methods people are using to fight the proposed law, SOPA's sponsor, U.S. Rep Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said today that he is pulling a Domain Name System provision from the bill that would force ISPs to cut access to overseas Web sites accused of piracy.

Wikipedia discussion

In a discussion thread about what to do about SOPA, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales indicated his inclination to shut down Wikipedia on January 18:

I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I'd like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course) per the emerging consensus on how to do it, is a good idea. But that means we need to move forward quickly on a concrete proposal and vote - we don't have the luxury of time that we usually have, in terms of negotiating with each other for weeks about what's exactly the best possible thing to do. As I understand it, the Foundation is talking to people about how we can geolocate and guide people to their Congressperson, etc....Our task is to decide to do it with a thumbs up / thumbs down vote.

Many members of the Wikipedia community are in favor of a full blackout of the free online encyclopedia across all languages and in all countries. Others, however, have proposed more measured approaches, arguing that a full blackout funs counter to the Wikipedia mission.

In the end, said Jay Walsh, the head of communications for the Wikimedia Foundation, it's more likely that the final outcome will be for a lesser form of protest aimed at English language Wikipedia pages in the U.S.

"The foundation encouraged [conversation about protesting SOPA] as a way to centralize the discussion," Walsh told CNET, adding that the current status is for some sort of anti-SOPA information banner on a splash page similar to what readers would have seen during the site's recent fundraising period.

Walsh said that the Wikimedia Foundation will be accepting member input on the proposed action through the weekend, and will likely make a decision--based on consensus of the community--by Monday or Tuesday. He said that if the final decision is to incorporate some kind of protest on Wikipedia, it will take at least a little time to implement from a technology standpoint.

Either way, there's no doubt that the Wikimedia Foundation is against SOPA and that its leaders support some form of protest. But in keeping with the foundation's wish to follow the majority of its community's sentiment, it's important to let everyone in that community have a chance to be heard, Walsh indicated. "This is really about listening and making sure that this is what they want."