Updated at 5:05 a.m. ET: Any student burning the midnight oil Tuesday may have been disappointed as what has become a primary research tool, Wikipedia, blacked out its Web pages as part of a global protest against anti-piracy legislation making its way through Congress.
“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!,” warned Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Twitter, and with that, one of the most heavily visited websites began a 24-hour “blackout.”
Google slapped a virtual black tape across the word “Google” on its home page, as if it were muffled, although it continued to be available for search. Social news site Reddit said it will be blacked out for 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m. ET. The metaphor by the protesting sites: To shutter and silence the Internet the same way many in the tech world say will happen if the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate move forward.
You could still access Wikipedia in Spanish, or French, or German or Russian or many other languages; just not English. “This is going to be wow,” Wales said on Twitter. “I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!”
However, it emerged there was a way to access Wikipedia pages. They briefly show normally before being replaced by a notice explaining the action. Pressing the escape button prevents this from happening, although it must be done for every individual page.
The two bills, supported mainly by the entertainment industry, are aimed at stopping illegal downloading and streaming of movies and TV shows. But many in the tech world — including giants Google and Facebook — say the legislation would let federal authorities shut down portions of the Internet without due process, and fundamentally alter the Internet’s ability to provide a platform for free speech.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and Comcast/NBC Universal. Comcast/NBC Universal is listed as a supporter of SOPA on the House Judiciary Committee website. On Tuesday, Microsoft itself said it opposes SOPA as it is “currently drafted.”)
“This is an extraordinary action for our community to take,” Wikipedia’s Wales said earlier in the week about the blackout, adding: “…we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech, both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”
Wales said the English version of Wikipedia gets about 25 million visits a day, according to comScore.
The site has become almost a staple of daily Web surfing, whether it’s directly sought out or cited on search engines like Google.
It’s not just desperate students looking to it for information on their way to getting a degree; it’ about 53 percent of all adult Internet users in the U.S., said the Pew Internet & American Life Project last year.
“The percentage of all American adults who use Wikipedia to look for information has increased from 25 percent in February 2007 to 42 percent in May 2010,” Pew said.
It also noted that Wikipedia is “more popular than sending instant messages … or rating a product, service, or person … but is less popular than using social network sites” or watching videos on sites like YouTube.
Tech website Boing Boing also went black, saying in part: “Boing Boing is offline today, because the US Senate is considering legislation that would certainly kill us forever. The legislation is called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), and would put us in legal jeopardy if we linked to a site anywhere online that had any links to copyright infringement.”
Several other sites plan to go dark Wednesday to protest the legislation. Among them: icanhazcheeseburger sites (those goofy ones you visit to see cats on the Internet or serial killers) including Know Your Meme and The Daily What).
A list of websites participating in the protest is available here.
The Internet Archive, a non-profit site that works with the likes of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian to catalog and make documents, audio and video available to the public, plans to be dark from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT.
“Legislation such as this directly affects libraries such as the Internet Archive, which collects, preserves, and offers access to cultural materials,” the Internet Archive said on its blog. “These bills would encourage the development of blacklists to censor sites with little recourse or due process. The Internet Archive is already blacklisted in China — let’s prevent the United States from establishing its own blacklist system.”