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7th May 2016

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Wikipedia blackout targets US anti-piracy laws

  • The website's page on Wednesday, as seen by millions worldwide (Photo: wikipedia.org)

Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia on Wednesday (18 January) triggered a 24-hour blackout of its English language site in protest against anti-piracy legislation currently under discussion in the US Congress.

Wikipedia - which attracts over 25 million visitors per day to its site - said the decision to go off-line was taken in response to the Stop Anti-Piracy Act (Sopa) and Protect IP (Pipa), two bills aimed at tackling illegal downloads and file-sharing.

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Critics of Sopa allege that the bill would allow US authorities to shut down domain-names worldwide if they were managed by US companies. This could potentially include the .com and .net sites, both of which are widely used by companies in EU member states. The bill could also force US-based service providers and search engines from doing business with EU sites suspected of illegal downloads.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, described the move as "an extraordinary action for our community to take." He said that Wikipedia could not "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."

Similar 'blackouts' have been promised by news sharing website Reddit, while on-line giants Google and Facebook have also expressed their opposition to the legislation.

Not all are in agreement with Wikipedia's actions, however.

Dick Costolo, chief executive of social media site Twitter, on Monday (16 January) criticised Wikipedia's stance. "Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish," he said, according to Forbes.

The row has also reached the White House, where a statement released on behalf of President Barack Obama hinted that he would veto the bill unless there is a consensus in Congress

The White House stated that Obama would refuse to support Sopa if it "reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risks or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

Wikipedia's public opposition to Sopa follows the adoption by the Spanish government of the controversial Sinde bill, which was passed earlier this month following US diplomatic pressure.

Like Sopa, Sinde creates a government body with powers to force internet service providers to block sites alleged to have infringed copyright. Copyright holders will also have the right to lobby the government body to close down sites.

Meanwhile, a ruling by the European Court of Justice in November has indicated that Sopa and Pipa could infringe EU law. In its decision on a case brought between Scarlet Extended SA, an internet service provider, and Sabam, a Belgian company responsible for the authorisation of third-party use of musical works, the Court stated that: "EU law precludes the Imposition of an injunction by a national court which requires an Internet service provider to install a filtering system with a view to preventing the illegal downloading of files."

The case came before the Court after Sabam established that users of Scarlet's services were downloading works in Sabam's music catalogue from the Internet for free, using peer-to-peer networks.

The European Parliament has also expressed its concerns about legislation to curb illegal file-sharing and downloads.

In a resolution supported by its three largest political groups in Strasbourg in advance of the recent EU-US summit on 28 November, the Parliament called on the US to "refrain from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names."

It also emphasised the need to "protect the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication."

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