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Wikipedia has temporarily terminated its services for a 24 hour period in an effort to combat a proposed controversial new bill.
The “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) has evoked strong opposition from Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay and others. However, Wikipedia has taken the most severe stance against the proposed bill which, if passed, will make the issue of copyright infringement much more problematic and much more encompassing than many of the aforementioned companies would like to see.
Therefore, Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales posted a message on the online encyclopedia warning that Wikipedia would “go dark” for 24 hours in protest because, in his opinion:
“SOPA … will cause serious damage to the free and open Internet. They put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won’t have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn’t being infringed. Foreign sites will be blacklisted, which means they won’t show up in major search engines.”
Wikipedia goes on to advise site visitors from outside the United States of America on how they can help to oppose the introduction of a bill such as SOPA in their own country, with the conclusion that:
“Wikipedia is a tremendously useful resource, and its existence depends upon a free, open and uncensored Internet. SOPA and PIPA (and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States) will hurt you, because they will make it impossible for sites you enjoy, and benefit from, to continue to exist. That’s why we’re doing this.”
Issues of online censorship have have arisen in previous years, but January 18th 2012 marks the first time that Wikipedia has intentionally ceased its services as a means of combatting such a bill.
In November of last year, fellow SOPA opponents including Facebook, Twitter and Google wrote a joint letter to the United States Senate and House of Representative, and explained that they were “very concerned” that the passing of SOPA would result in extremely adverse ways in regards to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in 1998.
While Twitter’s worldwide trending topics demonstrate its users resistance to SOPA, chief executive Dick Costolo has publicly dismissed Wikipedia’s temporary switch-off as “foolish” and “silly”. This is the first major indicator of dissent among the major companies about SOPA, yet it should be noted that both Reddit and Boing Boing have similarly shut down their websites in solidarity with Wikipedia. Google, meanwhile, has added, “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” to below the search engine on its homepage with a link to their own personal explanation of what the negative effects of SOPA are said to be for online communities.
Regardless of the outcome of SOPA, a similar bill named the Protect IP Act (PIPA) has yet to go before the Senate – it will do on January 24th – and so, the public may be turning to Wikipedia to see if that date will bring with it another “World Without Free Knowledge”.