Visitors to Wikipedia who are trying to search the encyclopedia’s usual trivia-filled pages are instead greeted by a shadowy “W” and a message saying, “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge” — unless they type in the words SOPA or Protect IP ACT.
Craigslist isn’t imposing a blackout per se, but before searchers can access the classified listings they’re hit with a message asking them to tell their senators and congressmen to oppose two online piracy bills working their way through Capitol Hill.
The online blackout is part of a protest by popular Internet sites against the House’s Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Companies argue that the bills would impose heavy regulatory costs, harm innovation, and give the government too much power to shut down Web sites accused of copyright violations even if they are later found to be innocent of the charges.
“The entire approach is philosophically wrongheaded,” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said Tuesday evening in an interview with The Washington Post before the protest began.
If you fire up Google’s home page, you’ll also notice a change. Instead of a cheery Google Doodle, a black censorship bar has been hastily thrown over the logo (users can actually see the wrinkles). The message “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the Web” is displayed under the search box. Click on the blackened logo or the link, and it directs you to a history of the anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA movement.
Head to the social news site Reddit, and you’ll see only a page of information on the bills that tells how to contact your local member Congress and gives updates on the live protests the Web site is staging across the country.
The twin bills were drafted to target foreign Web sites that illegally post copyrighted material from the United States. But these Web firms argue that the onus of blocking out pirated material rests on U.S. companies — search engines, aggregators and forums — who worry they’ll have to take on the role of policing every link on their Web sites.
Wikipedia’s blackout is perhaps garnering the most media attention. But is the site still relevant? Dominic Basulto writes:
The Blackout of Wikipedia — one of the most popular destinations on the Internet — had the potential to disrupt ten million U.S. Internet users, according to online research company, ComScore. Wikipedia also encourages millions more from outside the technology and Internet community to find out more about the potential impact of SOPA on free speech and innovation. Yet, coming as it does nearly a month after other leading entities have taken a very public stance against SOPA and days after President Obama indicated that passage of the House bill, SOPA, and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, would be unlikely. In light of this, Wikipedia’s decision to launch the blackout seems like a case of too little, too late.