On Wednesday the popular community-edited online encyclopedia Wikipedia (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) will take its English-language site offline for 24 hours. The aim is to protest against two US anti-piracy legislation – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) – which are being debated by Congress.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said the decision to black out the site was decided by voting within the Wikipedia community of writers and editors who manage the free service.
In an interview he said : “This is a quite clumsily drafted legislation which is dangerous for an open internet.”
He also told the BBC : “Proponents of Sopa have characterised the opposition as being people who want to enable piracy or defend piracy.
“But that’s not really the point. The point is the bill is so over broad and so badly written that it’s going to impact all kinds of things that, you know, don’t have anything to do with stopping piracy.”
People visiting the English-language site of Wikipedia will only see information about SOPA and PIPA, urging readers in the US to contact their local congressman and ask them to vote against the bills.
According to comScore data, the English-language Wikipedia receives more than 25 million average daily visitors from around the world.
Other smaller sites have said they will take part in the “blackout”, including news site Reddit.com and the blog Boing Boing.
But Wikipedia will be the highest profile name to take part in the campaign.
Twitter has declined to join. Dick Costolo, its chief executive, tweeted : “Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish.”
He later clarified, in a Twitter conversation with Mr Wales, that his comment was not meant to be read as a “value judgement” about other organisations’ involvement in the action.
Technology companies are also against SOPA and PIPA. Google has said the bill goes too far and could hurt investment. Several Internet companies including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, have run advertisements in major newspapers in order to urge Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.
These companies are opposed to those who support the bills, such as Hollywood studios and music labels, which say the legislation will protect intellectual property and jobs.
According to supporters in the House of Representatives, SOPA is designed to stop revenue flowing to “rogue websites”. Its aim is to crack down on online sales of pirated American movies, music or other goods by forcing internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material that violates US copyright laws.
PIPA, a similar law, is making its way through the US Senate.
On Saturday the White House appeared to side with critics of the bills. In a statement it said : “While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.”
Following the White House’s comment, Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation’s chairman and one of the anti-piracy legislation’s high profile supporters, tweeted on Saturday : “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”
He later added: “Seems like universal anger with POTUS [President of the United States] from all sorts of normal supporters… Whole entertainment industry employs 2.2 million [on] average salary $65,000. Good jobs and expanding foreign earnings. Made in America, too!”
News Corp owns a vast array of media properties from Fox TV, the Wall Street Journal to Twentieth Century Fox studios.
Sites participating to the shutdown will go offline for 24 hours, starting at midnight Eastern Time (05:00 GMT).