Wikipedia goes dark, Yang goes home

A journalist reads information on the online encyclopedia Wikipedia on Jan. 17, 2012, in Washington, D.C. Free online knowledge site Wikipedia will shut down for 24 hours beginning at midnight EST in protest at draft anti-online piracy legislation before the U.S. Congress, founder Jimmy Wales said Monday on Twitter.

If you try to look up Wikipedia articles today on, I don't know, canaries or The Rolling Stones or shoe horns, tough luck. They're inaccessible. In fact, the English language Wikipedia has only two articles available for viewing today: SOPA and PIPA. That's all Wikipedia wants you to learn about until midnight Eastern time.

SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill being considered by the House. It would expand law enforcement's authority to fight the online sale of counterfeit products, stuff like fake Prada hand bags and too-cheap-to-be-true "Rolex" watches, as well as the trafficking of bootleg movies and music. The bill's sponsors and its supporters in places like the movie and recording industries. PIPA is the Protect IP Act, the Senate's version of the same bill. Wikipedia is dark to drum up opposition to those bills, in part because it feels it could be in violation of what the new laws would establish. 

"Within Wikipedia, you're looking at millions if not hundreds of millions of links," says Jay Walsh, from the Wikimedia Foundation, "and one of the potential risks within this bill is that just linking to a site, not necessarily even a specific page, could be putting you in a situation of incrimination. So we could be engaging in illegal activity. For example: a Wikipedia article about a site that may in fact have some infringing material somewhere within it, we wouldn't even necessarily be able to link to it, and we don't want to have that situation on our hands."

Wikipedia isn't alone. The blog Boing Boing is dark today, so is Reddit.com and MoveOn.org. While online protests are nothing new, this measure is a big step for Wikipedia. "This is something that has been done before only once," says Andrew Lih, author of "The Wikipedia Revolution" and associate professor of journalism and director of new media at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. "The Italian Wikipedia just last year blacked out for three straight days to protest bad legislation according to them that was passing through the Italian system, and after three days, the legislation was changed in reaction to the blackout."

But rallying against SOPA and PIPA in their current forms might be like trying to stop an Adam Sandler movie from winning an Oscar. That is, it won't happen anyway. President Obama has said he wouldn't sign either bill as they stand. The House has no vote scheduled for SOPA. As for PIPA, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has vowed to filibuster the life out of it.

As for PIPA, "over the weekend, Ben Cardin from Maryland, who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said that he was going to switch his position and vote against it unless significant changes were made to the bill," says Politico technology reporter Jennifer Martinez

Also on today's program, Yahoo! co-founder Jerry Yang has resigned from the company's board of directors. The company has struggled recently but was once king of the Internet. "When you think about what Yahoo! accomplished," says Molly Wood from CNET, "they took the idea that there would be one website that you would go to where you would get all of your news, you could get to your email, see incoming messages, eventually you could search, use maps. That kind of way of using the web that we really still do today, it all came from Yahoo."

Wood thinks Yang's departure means Yahoo! is about to be sold. "I suspect that whoever purchases Yahoo will want to do a lot with News," she says, "do a lot with Yahoo email, figure out how to make money off of all those millions and millions and millions of users who come to Yahoo, but some of those outliers, maybe Yahoo Billiards online, they might not be around for that much longer."

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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