As of 9 p.m. PT last night, the English pages of Wikipedia wouldn’t give you results for your searches. Instead you’d get a dark splash screen asking you to “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.” Why? Wikipedia has blacked out for 24 hours to raise awareness and protest pending U.S. anti-piracy bills.
The message on the darkened Wiki page explains that “For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act and PROTECT IP Act target the shutdown of sites that share pirated media and other content. The bills have good intentions, but many Internet companies fear that the buck wouldn’t stop there. Legitimate sites like Wikipedia, Google and Craigslist (to name a few) could be targets for their shared online content too.
These anti-piracy bills are heavily backed by Hollywood in an attempt to reclaim lost revenue. Piracy costs the entertainment industry billions of dollars a year globally, so I don’t blame them.
At the same time it’s a little dramatic. Shutting down piracy websites isn’t going to make people start pulling out their wallets and fork out money to buy the content they’ve been getting for free all these years.
Regardless, the Senate and the House are pushing these through government faster than you can download the latest episode of Modern Family from a torrent site. Unlike stories of hackers going to release source code, erase cities from the internet or rob banks, Wikipedia announced it would be going dark for 24 hours, and they kept their word. Other companies have joined in the movement, though their involvement isn’t as bold as Wikipedia’s.
Can the blackout raise enough awareness to get people on board to vote against these acts? Or will the move anger people to tune out entirely? I guess after this intermission we’ll just have to wait and see how the final act plays out!