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Wikipedia to black out content tomorrow to protest Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill in Congress

Unintended consequences of bill could stifle free speech and censor internet

This is what visitors will see when they visit Wikipedia today.

This is what visitors will see when they visit Wikipedia today.

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia plans to black out its entire library of content tomorrow as a protest against the Stop Online Privacy Act legislation that could be an internet jobs killer. This is the first time the online Encyclopedia will be unavailable to English users since it was created in 2001.

Numerous other tech companies including WordPress and Google plan to participate in the protests as well.

The legislation, also known as SOPA, waiting to be voted into law in the U.S. congress intends to curtail online piracy of intellectual property including movies and music, but has unforeseen consequences that could censor the internet, killing innovation in a growing industry that adds more than $2 trillion to the domestic U.S. economy.

The movie, music, and entertainment industry claim more than 2.5 million jobs have been lost to piracy but cannot back up their figures. They are backing some of the legislation in congress with lobbyists.

The bill would require online companies and websites to censor or black out their websites or links to websites that involve intellectual copyright infringement, but the terms in the law of what is piracy are so broad that such widespread censorship could stifle free speech online.

Parts of Wikipedia could be censored under the new law if sections of its encyclopedia contain copyright infringing content or link to websites that participate in copyright infringement.

Google protests SOPA today by blacking out their logo.

Google protests SOPA today by blacking out their logo.

Google would be extremely affected by the new law and be required to censor volumes of websites in its search engine in addition to incurring huge legal costs and stifling its growth with technological barriers.

“Like many businesses, entrepreneurs and web users, we oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” a Google spokeswoman said. “So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page.”

The company plans to put a link on its homepage in opposition of the bill.

President Obama’s white house has said they won’t support many cornerstones of the new legislation.

Legislators agreed to take out a provision in the bill that would have blocked foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. That would mean U.S. citizens would go under the same type of firewall that censors the internet for Chinese citizens.

Still the bill has consequences that could reach far beyond protecting copyright. A website that links to another website that is accused of copyright infringement could be censored even if that website had no knowledge it was engaging in illegal activity.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp. and media tycoon, displayed his support for SOPA on Twitter in a rant accusing President Obama of taking his marching orders from “Silicon Valley paymasters.” He suggested Google was stirring up opposition to the bill and was a “piracy leader.”

Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said he will call a vote on the Senate’s version of the bill on January 24, and a vote on the house version of the bill could be next. It is unlikely to pass without President Obama’s support.

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