In protest against the highly-controversial “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), which will come up for a vote by the Senate’s House Judiciary Committee later this week, Wikipedia may blackout all of its English-language articles. The proposal was issued by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who argued in support of the idea on his personal Wikipedia user page after the Italian Wikipedia community achieved success with a similar protest. He has asked the online encyclopedia’s users and editors to say whether or not they support such a blackout.
“A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of “Stop Online Piracy Act’ is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track,” wrote Wales. “…My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case.”
SOPA would allow corporations (i.e. copyright holders) and the US government to block access to websites that are suspected of spreading pirated material, or facilitate such activity. Supporters of SOPA say that the legislation is needed to further fight online piracy and protect copyright holders from intellectual property theft. The opposition movement against SOPA — a faction that includes an increasing number of tech heavyweights, like Google, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, eBay, Yahoo and even Microsoft (among many others) — insist that SOPA is dangerous because it could usher in unprecedented online censorship, and potentially jeopardize the entire underlying structure of the Internet (the Domain Name System, or DNS), thus making it less secure.
The Wikipedia straw poll is currently ongoing, and well worth the read, as each voter is able to write why he or she supports or opposes the Wikipedia blackout. Self-described hacker Shishir Bashyal has created a pie chart, automatically updated every two minutes, which currently shows that 88.5 percent of respondents support (55.4 percent) or strongly support (30.1 percent) the community strike. Only 14.6 percent currently oppose (10.4 percent) or strongly oppose (4.2 percent) the blackout.
Wales says that this straw poll will simply be used to gauge opinion on the matter, but will not itself decide whether the blackout will happen. But “if this poll is firmly in ‘support’,” writes Wales, “we’d obviously go through a much longer process to get some kind of consensus around parameters, triggers, and timing.”