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From Wikipedia to Darkipedia: Protest against anti-piracy law

Last updated on: January 18, 2012 18:24 IST

From Wikipedia to Darkipedia: Protest against anti-piracy law

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Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, and other popular websites went dark on Wednesday as search engine Google blotted its logo as part of protests to stop Internet piracy legislation being considered by the United States Congress.The worldwide blackout came with a warning from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who said, "Students, do your homework early!

"The online encyclopedia, the tenth most popular website in the US, shut down most of its English-language services and replaced its familiar white and gray design with a black homepage featuring information about the legislation.Wikipedia was joined by Google, which placed a rectangular black strip over its logo, with a message to "tell the Congress please don't censor the web".

On opening the Google homepage, one is greeted with the blacked out Google logo, with only a tiny portion of the blue lower bottom of the second 'g' visible.

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Image: A reporter's laptop shows the Wikipedia blacked out opening page in Brussels
Photographs: Reuters

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On clicking on the black tape, one is taken to a Google page with the heading 'End Piracy, not liberty.' "Fighting online piracy is important. The most effective way to shut down pirate websites is through targeted legislation that cuts off their funding. There's no need to make American social networks, blogs and search engines censor the Internet or undermine the existing laws that have enabled the web to thrive, creating millions of US jobs," reads Google's message.

The bills -- Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the legislation -- backed by major American media companies -- would allow the justice department to seek a court order requiring US search.

Wikipedia is the largest web entity to declare its intent to go dark, and joins many other websites that have already pledged to shut down for 12 to 24 hours to draw attention to legislation that they say will hasten the end of the free Internet.


Image: Wikipedia webpage in use on a laptop computer is seen in this photo illustration taken in Washington
Photographs: Reuters

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From Wikipedia to Darkipedia: Protest against anti-piracy law

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"Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the US," Google said.The US Senate will begin voting on the bills on January 24.

Google urges users to sign a petition urging the Congress to vote "NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late." Other websites like social news site Reddit said it will shut down for 12 hours -- from 8am to 8pm to protest the legislation.Reddit was one of the trailblazers of the blackout movement, declaring its intent to go dark on January 10. Two days later, Ben Huh, chief executive of Cheezburger, which has a network of 50 sites including the seminal ICanHasCheezburger as well as Fail Blog, Know Your Meme and the Daily What, said his sites would be joining the strike.



Photographs: Reuters

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From Wikipedia to Darkipedia: Protest against anti-piracy law

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Google announced on Tuesday that, while its search engine will continue to function, the company will place a link on its home page to highlight its opposition to the bills.

"Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet," Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an email. "For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history," Wikipedia said in a message posted on its darkened website.

"Right now, the US Congress is considering a legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia."


Image: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales gestures during the opening session at the London Cyberspace Conference in London
Photographs: Reuters

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The founders of Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo! and other Internet giants had said in an open letter last month that the legislation would give the US government censorship powers "similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.

Tech website Boing Boing also went black, saying in part, "Boing Boing is offline, because the US Senate is considering legislation that would certainly kill us forever. The legislation is called the PROTECT IP Act and would put us in legal jeopardy if we linked to a site anywhere online that had any links to copyright infringement.

A starred section at the top of the site urges users to "help put a stop to this madness" and links to a page dedicated to the topic."This bill is poorly constructed, quite dangerous and won't actually address the real problem of piracy," said Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, in an interview. 

"The Internet policy shouldn't be set by Hollywood." Wales of Wikimedia said he first proposed the idea of temporarily turning off Wikipedia as a protest in December, and it came into fruition after weeks of discussion by the site's volunteer editors. "The community got together and had a huge conversation and decided we needed to take a stand," said Wales.

Image: Women, who put a zip and a tape on their mouths, protest against a privacy law in downtown Rome
Photographs: Reuters

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The move to shut the site for a day was designed to make the Congress hear a different point of view on the issue, Wales."To date, they've only really heard from professional lobbyists and Hollywood, and haven't heard from people about how they use the Internet and why it should remain the way it is," said Wales.

"Our view is that Google is big enough to look out for themselves," said Wales. "Our interest is really about the fundamental structure of the Internet." He said he wasn't certain how the bills, if passed, might affect Wikipedia.

"We could be barred from linking to websites that are classified as foreign infringing sites, and that raises quite obviously a lot of very deep First Amendment issues."

The Wikipedia blackout affects its English-language site for users around the world, but the versions in other languages and versions formatted for mobile phones continue to operate.Volunteer-staffed Wikipedia turned 11-years-old on January 15 and boasts more than 20 million articles in 282 languages.

The White House expressed concern about the anti-online piracy bills in a statement over the weekend. "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," it said. "Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," the White House said.

News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch meanwhile accused the "blogosphere" of "terrorising many Senators and Congressmen who previously committed" to support the US legislation.

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Image: A woman taped her eyes and mouth to protest against a privacy law
Photographs: Reuters

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