Wikipedia Open to Future Blackout Protests of SOPA-Like Bills

After attention-grabbing stand on Internet piracy law, founder says site would act again if it must.

Wikipedia blacked out
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Of all the sites that went dark on January 18 to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, none was more prominent and more effective than Wikipedia, whose users were greeted with a message decrying the proposed law. Thursday, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says the site wouldn't hesitate to black out again if similar legislation that the community feels threatens Internet freedom is brought up.

"We will continue to speak out, and I personally will continue to speak against [legislation] that I feel is incredibly unhealthy for the planet, for free culture, and so forth," he told a crowd Thursday in Washington, D.C., at the "Wikimania" conference, an annual summit of the most dedicated Wikipedia editors around the world.

Wales said that the January blackout was a drastic measure, and taking the site offline isn't something to be done lightly. He suggested that the community devise a set of guidelines to determine when a blackout is appropriate.

"I hope we never have to do it again, and I think it should be reserved for the most serious things that directly impact our work," he said. "It shouldn't be something we do every six months."

He also made it clear that he supports Wikipedia blackouts only to protest laws that deal with Internet freedom, and that the organization shouldn't take strong stances on other social issues.

"I think it'd be risky for us as a community to get involved in more and different political issues," he said.

Although the January 18 blackout was the most famous in the site's history, it's not the only time a Wikipedia site went dark in protest. Earlier this week, the Russian Wikipedia went black to protest a proposed Internet censorship law, and last year the Italian Wikipedia blacked out for three days to protest a proposed wiretapping bill.

Wales said he hoped the Internet's strong reaction to SOPA would show the government that people would fight for a free and open Internet.

The blackout "had a huge impact with preventing the passage of SOPA and PIPA [a related Senate bill]," he said. "We cannot accept absurd, draconian policies that'll [limit Internet freedom]."

Although Wikipedia was founded by Wales, he said the website and its related projects have taken on a life of their own, and its community of 80,000 editors would decide when and if a certain site should shut down.

"Everyone thinks I'm the boss of Wikipedia," he told the crowd. "But at the end of the day, it's up to you."