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Wikipedia shuts down in protest

By Danielle, Stoppelmann
Published January 17, 2012

Today, students around the country woke up to find one of their most prized Internet resources inaccessible.

Wikipedia, the online user-produced encyclopedia developed in 2001, disabled the English version of their site for a 24-hour period to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect I.P. Act— proposed legislation in the U.S. House and Senate aimed to fight online piracy.

Wikipedia, which is utilized by 400 million visitors monthly and has about 100,000 consistent users that contribute content, according to its website, is conducting the protest to raise public awareness about the acts and prevent their passage.

SOPA, which supplements the PIPA bill in the senate, grants the federal government more control over website usage, and was introduced to the House of Representatives in October. Both acts seek to protect the United States by preventing copyright infringement and piracy on websites developed by the public, like Wikipedia.

The House Judiciary Committee released a statement on Sunday calling SOPA “a bill that stops foreign online criminals from stealing and selling America’s intellectual property and keeping the profits for themselves.”

School of Information Dean Jeff MacKie-Mason wrote in an e-mail interview that the goal of the blackout is to direct attention to the potential consequences of the proposed bills.

“(Wikipedia) wants to raise awareness of the harm they think the SOPA and PIPA laws would cause and to encourage people to be more active in opposing the legislation,” MacKie-Mason wrote.

He added that he is unsure how much of an impact the “protest” can really have.

“Whether it will be effective in motivating people to public action is not so clear,” he wrote. “But I expect that there will be many, many calls and letters to legislators asking them to oppose the bills, and that this may have some effect.”

Wikipedia is joined by other websites, including Wordpress and Reddit, that disconnected their services today out of solidarity or displayed their public disapproval like Google, which is displaying a black banner over its logo today.

MacKie-Mason added that students worried about the Wikipedia outage should remember there are other sources of information on the Internet.

“It may be hard for today's students to remember, but all of us had to find information without Wikipedia not very long ago.”

Engineering freshman Brad Olson, who had previously heard about the planned blackout, said he would be disappointed there were barriers limiting his use of Wikipedia.

“If that were to go down … I would probably be pretty upset,” Olson said. “It would feel like I lost a resource.”

However, some students said they aren’t concerned about the repercussions of not being able to use Wikipedia for a day, mostly because they do not have any immediate schoolwork that requires online research.

Engineering sophomore Jeremy Ross said most students are able to use other resources on the Internet to gather information.

“It might make researching something more difficult,” Ross said. “But you can find almost all of the information, I would assume, that’s on Wikipedia on different websites.”