The Day Wikipedia Went Dark

Posted January 20, 2012 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Millions are now in the know regarding two anti-piracy bills with alarming consequences, thanks to Wikipedia’s Wednesday blackout

Jon Stewart opened up Wednesday’s Comedy Central’s Daily Show segment about the ruckus surrounding Twitter’s latest trending topic known best as SOPA. Like an Italian pizzeria regular, he jumps up with jolly, repeatedly saying “Sopa, sopa!” using his best Italian accent. Acting as if he had no previous knowledge of what this SOPA was, he retreats to his Apple laptop and quickly journeys to to gather up expedient information. And just like that, Stewart goes for the ultimate joke. “What do they expect us to do? Go to the library…like a common masturbator?” he asks.

Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia easily accessed by millions, which also operates as a non-profit organization, participated in a one-day only blackout that used the fury and smarts of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The blackout affected over 162 million people who tried to access the U.S. version of the site. “Imagine a world without free knowledge” was the message Wikipedia posted on January 20, beginning at 12 midnight. For the entire day, the site was inaccessible, sending college students and regular info hunters distressed. Eventually, Wikipedia got their message across, pushing 8 million U.S. readers to call up their congressional reps and leave their disappointment over two anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which now sits in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which sits in the Senate.

Google also joined in on the online protests, although the site was still functional. The popular global search engine only published their message with a blacked-out Google header and also posting a link to additional information on the cause. At least 25,000 WordPress blogs also participated, along with Reddit and popular blog Boing Boing. “In the past, the media industry has often gone after particular infringers — people who have downloaded stuff off the Internet and sharing it. And now they’re going after websites that link to these things,” Rob Beschizza, Boing Boing’s managing editor, said Wednesday. “The bill is supposed to let copyright holders get court orders against them, and there’s all sorts of various measures for getting sites blacklisted or blocked.

In an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales stated “I’m a big believer that we should be dealing with issues of piracy and dealing with them in a serious way, but this bill is not the right bill.”

The biggest problem with the SOPA and PIPA bills is how the ramifications of a passed Senate version of the bill would affect the normality of freely-accessible websites, and even censoring free speech. Personal YouTube videos would also be affected. If a record company spotted a music lover singing their copyrighted material, without gaining permission, they would be fall into the grapples of a potential lawsuit. If these bills are enacted by Congress, an influx of frivolous lawsuits will emerge and websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube be left motionless.

The protest seems to have gotten some major traction. Three co-sponsors of the bill have dropped their support. “We can find a solution that will protect lawful content. But this bill is flawed & that’s why I’m withdrawing my support. #SOPA #PIPA,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt wrote on his official Twitter page. Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, original co-sponsors of PIPA and SOPA, also reversed their positions.

Most record labels and media companies along with power corporations like Viacom, Time Warner, NewsCorp are all supporting the bill. SOPA and PIPA critics all believe that the bill’s backers do not understand the complexities of the Internet’s architecture and are concerned that legislation will destroy the free world of the Internet.

For more information on SOPA and PIPA and to voice your opinion on the bills, go to: or

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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