Recently, Wikipedia expressed its protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act or more commonly called “SOPA”, by shutting down for 24 hours. The SOPA is a bill originating from the US House of Representatives which is basically aimed at curtailing online trafficking of copyrighted materials. It will, in effect, involve sites such as Wikipedia, Google, etc., because it covers sites which enable or facilitate copyright infringement (I guess, for Google, if search results would lead to a site of for example, a torrent of a movie. For Wikipedia, I guess if it will include an article which features copyrighted material without properly citing the source). The penalties under the SOPA may, in the long run, lead to the shutting down the site enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.
Anyway, back to Wikipedia’s blackout protest.
Those who visited the site during the 24-hour period saw a black page, with text such as “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge” instead of the usual Wikipedia homepage.
(Image from bbc.co.uk)
I am pretty sure a lot of people were adversely affected with Wikipedia’s shutting down, albeit temporarily. As of this writing, Wikipedia reportedly has 3,849,426 content articles, and 26,002,775 pages in total. Think of any topic and Wikipedia probably has an article about it. I personally rely on Wikipedia for a lot of things: from trivial matters such as information on TV series or recent movies to more important matters such as a quick overview of a US case randomly mentioned in class.
Wikipedia articles may be openly edited by anyone, (hence, not a recognized source of information for a supervised legal research paper, for example) but these articles more often than not, provide a general overview of things which one may need an answer in an instant (i.e. when my niece asked me what the arrangement of the planets in the solar system was for a school assignment, I automatically double-checked with Wikipedia whether I gave her the correct answer).
The internet, through sites such as Wikipedia, has enabled people to access information with a few clicks. It would be overly devastating if laws will have the effect of shutting down such sites, thus curtailing people’s access to free knowledge.