- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia went offline Wednesday, joining a daylong Internet strike to protest proposed laws aimed at combating digital piracy.

More than a dozen other large websites — including discussion forums Reddit and Boing Boing, and Firefox browser designer Mozilla — also are closing down Wednesday in protest.

Hundreds of other sites, such as search-engine giant Google, are posting links on their home pages highlighting opposition to the legislation.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) in the Senate target foreign websites that violate copyrights online by banning U.S. companies from providing them with advertising, payment or other Internet services.

U.S. payment processors and advertisers would have to end service to foreign websites that copyright holders say are infringing their rights, or be liable to be sued. Search engines and Internet companies would be banned from providing links to infringing sites.

The proposed laws “endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales in a statement.

He said Wikipedia’s English-language community decided to join the strike after a three-day debate in which 1,800 members of the encyclopedia’s global community had participated.

Critics argue that the proposals would stifle Internet innovation, a key driver of U.S. and global economic growth.

“Had these bills been passed five or 10 years ago, even YouTube might not exist today,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group promoting Internet openness and deregulation. “The collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.”

Mozilla Corp., the nonprofit that produces the Firefox browser, said the proposed laws would “protect content at all costs, creating the opportunity for abuse and damaging online capabilities for all of us.”

“We hope the blackout of our U.S. sites will educate people about this important issue,” the company said.

Supporters of the bills include movie and music companies such as Walt Disney, content providers such as the National Football League and News Corp., pharmaceutical companies such Eli Lilly, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

They argue the bills’ sweeping provisions are necessary to shutter the burgeoning numbers of foreign-based cybercrime sites that sell counterfeit goods, pirated software or fake pharmaceuticals, or stream copyrighted content like music and movies.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican and the main author of SOPA, defended his legislation Tuesday, saying it is needed to protect U.S. companies that generate jobs and export earnings.

“It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation” about SOPA, said Mr. Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social-networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear, instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”

• Shaun Waterman can be reached at 123@example.com.

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