Wikipedia Founder Says SOPA/PIPA Blackout a One-Time Thing

The day Wikipedia went dark was perhaps the most memorable part of the successful online protest against proposed copyright laws, but Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales doesn't expect to see it repeated anytime soon.

By Kenneth Corbin
Fri, July 13, 2012

CIO — WASHINGTON -- The decision by Wikipedia and scores of other sites to go dark for a day earlier this year in protest of a pair of controversial copyright protection laws working their way through Congress has been heralded as a milestone in online activism. But Jimmy Wales, founder of the online encyclopedia, hopes that the Wikipedia community won't opt to take that drastic step again save for what it views as the most serious threats to online freedom.

SOPA and PIPA

The copyright bills in question -- the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA) -- galvanized opposition on the Web to provisions that critics, including prominent companies like Google, warned would empower authorities to shut down legitimate sites in the name of combating copyright infringement.

So for Wales and like-minded activists, it became a matter of free speech, an issue core to the ethos of sites like Wikipedia. And thanks in no small part to the groundswell of opposition that arose online, capped by the day of Websites going dark, SOPA and PIPA never made it to a vote in their respective chambers.

But that blackout will stand as an exception, and perhaps a one-time only event for the English-language Wikipedia site, Wales said on Thursday at the Wikimedia Foundation's Wikimania conference.

"I hope that we never have to do it again. I don't want us to become a site that goes on strike every six months over something. I think it should be reserved for only the most serious things that directly impact our work," Wales said in remarks before an auditorium packed with Wikipedia editors from several dozen nations around the world.

"I also think that we have to be very, very careful about our political neutrality. I think there are many issues that many of us feel very, very passionate about," he added. "I think it would be very risky for us as a community to start getting involved more and more in different political issues."

He said that he only knew of two other instances when a Wikipedia site went dark. In October 2011, the Italian Wikipedia blacked out articles in protest of a wiretapping measure being debated in Italy's parliament. Earlier this week, the Russian Wikipedia staged a protest against a bill authorizing the government to shut down objectionable Websites. That measure passed the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, on Wednesday.

Given that the Italian and Russian protests concerned government efforts to exert greater control over the Internet, both cases would seem to meet the criteria for a blackout that Wales described at the Wikimania conference.

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