The English Wikipedia joined thousands of other web sites in protesting SOPA and PIPA by blacking out its own content for 24 hours. The purpose of the blackout was twofold: to raise public awareness, and to encourage people to share their views with their elected representatives.
During the blackout:
The Wikipedia page about SOPA and PIPA was accessed more than 162 million times during the 24 hour period.
More than 12,000 people commented on the Wikimedia Foundation's blog post announcing the blackout. Most supported the blackout.
More than eight million looked up their elected representatives' contact information via the Wikipedia tool. The Senate's web site was unable to accommodate the number of citizens attempting to use its contact forms.
Anti-SOPA and PIPA topics began trending globally on Twitter immediately after the blackout began. Hashtags included #factswithoutwikipedia, #SOPAstrike, and #wikipediablackout. At one point, 1% of all tweets carried the #wikipediablackout tag, and the term SOPA was used in a quarter-million tweets hourly during the blackout.
A quick search of SOPA blackout on Google News yielded 9,500 links as of 13:30 Pacific time, January 19.
Are SOPA and PIPA dead?
Not at all.
SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith postponed his committee's hearing of the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a planned January 24 vote on PIPA. But each indicated that work would press forward in refining the bills.
Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are symptoms of a larger issue. They are misguided solutions to a misunderstood problem. In the U.S. and abroad, legislators and big media are embracing censorship and sacrificing civil liberties in their attacks on free knowledge and an open Internet.
What will happen next with SOPA and PIPA?
Although support has slipped in both the Senate and the House and votes have been delayed, work continues on both bills. It is important to keep the pressure up on both houses. We expect changes that appear to tone down the damaging effects of the laws, without addressing their fundamental flaws.
What's the best way for me to help? (for U.S. citizens)
The most effective action you can take is to call your representatives in both houses of Congress, and tell them you oppose SOPA, PIPA, and the thinking behind them.
What's the best way for me to help? (for non-U.S. citizens)
Contact your country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs or similar government agency. Tell them you oppose SOPA and PIPA, and any similar legislation. SOPA and PIPA will affect websites outside of the United States, and even sites inside the United States (like Wikipedia) that also affect non-American readers -- like you. Calling your own government will also let them know you don't want them to create their own bad anti-Internet legislation.
What are SOPA and PIPA?
SOPA (the "Stop Online Piracy Act") and PIPA (the "PROTECT IP Act") are bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, respectively. These bills are presented as efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites, but in our opinion, they do so in a way that would disrupt free expression and harm the Internet. You can follow both bills through the legislative process. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that advocates for the public interest in the digital realm, has summarized the flaws in these bills, and the threats to an open, secure, and free Internet.
How could SOPA and PIPA hurt Wikipedia?
SOPA and PIPA would put the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites. Small sites won't have sufficient resources to defend themselves. Big media companies may seek to cut off funding sources for their foreign competitors, even if copyright isn't being infringed. Some foreign sites would be prevented from showing up in major search engines. And, SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression.
Wikipedia would be threatened in many ways. For example, in its current form, SOPA could require Wikipedia to actively monitor every site we link to, to ensure it doesn't host infringing content. Any link to an infringing site could put us in jeopardy of being forced offline. The trust and openness that underlies the entire Wikipedia project would be threatened, and new, restrictive policies would make it harder for us to be open to new contributors.
What happened, and why?
Wikipedia protested SOPA and PIPA by blacking out the English Wikipedia for 24 hours, beginning at midnight January 18, Eastern Time. Visitors were not able to read the encyclopedia, and instead saw messages about SOPA and PIPA, encouragement to contact their representatives, and links to share information on social media.
Wikipedians chose to black out the English Wikipedia out of concern that SOPA and PIPA would severely inhibit people's access to information. The bills would reach far beyond the United States, and affect everyone around the world.
Does this mean that Wikipedia itself is violating copyright laws, or hosting pirated content?
Not at all. Some supporters of SOPA and PIPA falsely characterize everyone who opposes them as cavalier about copyright. Wikipedians are knowledgeable about copyright and vigilant in protecting against violations. We spend thousands of hours every week reviewing and removing infringing content as it is posted, and educating new contributors about copyright law. We are careful about it because our mission is to share knowledge freely. To that end, all Wikipedians release their own contributions under a free license. Free licenses are incompatible with copyright infringement, and so infringement is not tolerated.
I keep hearing that this is a fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Is that true?
No. Some people are characterizing it that way, probably in an effort to imply all the participants are motivated by commercial self-interest. But it's obviously not that simple; the public has a huge stake in how the Internet operates, beyond commercial Internet sites or commercial entertainment. As a non-profit, user-generated project, we run the fifth most-viewed site in the world. Unlike Hollywood and Silicon Valley, Wikipedia has no financial stake in SOPA and PIPA: we do not benefit from copyright infringement, nor are we trying to monetize traffic or sell ads. Wikipedia, and other non-profit, community-generated sites, exist to freely share knowledge, without infringing on intellectual property rights. We are protesting to protect your rights. We're on your side.
I have a question that isn't answered here, or, I would like to send feedback to Wikipedia.
You can reach Wikipedia volunteer contributors at info-en(at)wikimedia(dot)org. If you need a response, please be patient: we may have trouble keeping up with the mail.
References and notes
^This link shows the blackout page as it appeared during the protest.
^ abWikimedia Foundation (January 19, 2012). "Wikipedia blackout supports free and open internet" (Press release).Note: The figure, which upon further review is actually about 164 million, reflects unique page impressions, not unique people. Detailed analysis to assess duplication would be costly.