- Jun 1, 2006
- Reaction score
Wikipedia to go dark in piracy protest
PM By Suzanne Hill and wires
It is the battle of the movie makers against the internet and it is coming to a computer near you.
Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has announced it will black out the pages of its English-language website for 24 hours starting Wednesday (US time) in protest at draft anti-online piracy legislation before the US congress.
Wikipedia is one of the world's most popular websites, getting almost 500 million visitors a month. Today the site's founder, Jimmy Wales, tweeted that the site would be shutting down.
"Student warning, do your homework early, Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!" he said on Twitter.
"'Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.' MLK - on Wednesday, Wikipedia demands," Mr Wales said, citing slain US civil rights leader Martin Luther King.
The "bad law" he refers to is known as SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, and it is currently being debated by the US House of Representatives, while the Protect IP Act is the version before the Senate.
The draft legislation has won the backing of Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US chamber of commerce.
But last month the founders of Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo! and other internet giants expressed concern over the two drafts, saying in an open letter that they would "give the US government the power to censor the web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran".
America's Institute of Policy Innovation estimates copyright theft costs around $58 billion in America every year, affecting movie studios and music companies who find the material they own being distributed illegally.
Often the pirated material turns up on the internet and what makes SOPA so controversial is that it makes search engines and internet service providers responsible for enforcing copyright protection.
The internet commentator who uses only the name Stilgherrian has been following the issue.
"In brief it means a copyright holder can apply to a court to say a particular website or a particular location online has our copyrighted material on it," he said.
"The court could then issue an order doing a number of things, which would include telling internet service providers to block access to that site or search engines like Google to stop indexing that site and so on."
Under the legislation, a single website would be held responsible for all of the content on it no matter how it had got there and whether users had put it up.
Stilgherrian says companies are concerned their entire websites might be taken down by the courts.
"Once you start getting to actually identifying which parts of the site might or might not be infringing, well the copyright holders have in the past tended to aim their legal action fairly broadly," he said.
"We've seen that in Australia in the case of the movie and television industry suing iiNet, the internet service provider, over its supposed copyright infringement by its customers and that's still being thought about by the High Court of Australia.
"And it's with that in mind that this is part of a much longer running global battle, but this is just another front in that battle."
According to University of NSW computer science lecturer Dr Sri Venugopal, Australian companies could also find themselves caught up by the SOPA laws.
"Australians sites could find themselves blocked if there is an Australian site which holds a forum where users can post links to content and let's say some of the content that is potentially infringing, there is a chance that the Australian site could be targeted under this law," he said.