Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Wikipedia May Go Dark on Wednesday

If you're like me and you like to look up the occasional obscure fact on Wikipedia, you may not be able to do so on Wednesday, 1/18. According to news reports, the online encyclopedia plans to shutdown for the day to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently under consideration in Congress.

While no one really likes piracy, this legislation has the potential to have some serious repercussions beyond simply stopping unauthorized distribution of content. Blogging for the New York Times, Jenna Wortham notes that SOPA "may force search engines and Internet service providers to block access to Web sites that offer or link to copyrighted material." Basically, if SOPA is passed as it was originally conceived, when a website is accused of containing pirated content, it can be wiped off the digital map without any real due process. Any website can be accused and be essentially shut down. Declan McCullagh writing for CNET put it best: "[SOPA is] kind of an internet death penalty."

So while a day without our favorite online encyclopedia may be a pain, it is for a worthy cause. Imagine an internet with no Wikipedia, ever. Or no New York Times. With SOPA as law, that could be very possible.

For more information about SOPA and its potential impact, see this CNET article.