Wikipedia might see a blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which goes before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee this Thursday, December 15.
Wikimedia chief Jimmy Wales recently started a poll to determine whether Wikipedia’s vast community thought SOPA was worth protesting. He noted that a similar protest conducted on the Italian Wikipedia site had a profound impact and asked users to weigh in on a blackout for the English-language version of the site.
So far, around 87 percent of Wikipedians support the blackout.
SOPA is a broad anti-piracy bill; it contains some scary censorship measures that have much of the Internet up in arms. If a site is accused of containing copyright-infringing content, the site could be blocked by ISPs, de-indexed from search engines and even prevented from doing business with companies such as Paypal.
SOPA would also make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a felony.
Wales notes that the online voting this week is merely a straw poll to gauge user interest in a blackout. “Even if this poll is firmly in support, we’d obviously go through a much longer process to get some kind of consensus around parameters, triggers and timing,” he writes.
Blogger/hacker Shishir Bashyal is keeping track of Wikipedians’ voting using YQL (that’s Yahoo Query Language for you non-developers), PHP and Google’s Visualization API. The result is a nearly real-time representation of how the editors of Wikipedia feel about SOPA.
As of this writing, 56 percent of voters support an anti-SOPA protest, and 31.4 percent strongly support it. Around 8.7 percent oppose the proposed blackout, and just 3.8 percent strongly oppose it. Altogether, 320 votes are in favor of the blackout, and 46 voters oppose it.
“This would be a great way [to] make the general public aware of the consequences of SOPA,” writes one Wikipedia user in the poll. “This bill, if written into law will have drastic effects on American citizens… [It will] cripple free speech [and] Internet security and kill jobs in one of the few sectors of the U.S. economy that is flourishing.”
An opposing voter points out in the poll, “One of the five pillars of Wikipedia is to stay neutral … Don’t go down the political path. It is a slippery slope. Once you start it is hard to stop. What will be the next political hot topic Wikipedia steps in on?”
While Wikipedia’s community does pride itself on neutrality in editing even the most controversial topics, another supporting voter writes, “SOPA would affect Wikipedia, and is firmly in opposition to everything the Wikimedia Foundation stands for. This is not a time to blindly follow the principle of neutrality.”
We’ll keep you updated on other SOPA news as it develops, especially during this critical week.