WIKIPEDIA, Google and Craigslist are among the websites joining a protest about proposed anti-piracy legislation in the United States.
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, has voluntarily suspended its website for 24 hours. The English version of the website became inaccessible at 5am our time this morning. Instead of a database of more than 3.8 million articles, visitors are greeted with an open letter encouraging them to contact Congress in protest.
Google joined the protest against two proposed pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. The search engine blacked-out its logo on the US version of its website and added a link encouraging Americans to oppose the bills.
In a blogpost, David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said that the company was supporting the protest because "we think there’s a good way forward that doesn’t cause collateral damage to the web".
Craigslist, the popular online classifieds service, has suspended its US sites, while other websites, including Reddit, WordPress, Flickr, Twitpic and hundreds of others have agreed to support the day of action.
Sopa and Pipa are attempts to deal with the problem of online filesharing by granting powers to close down websites that are making material, such as films, music and television programmes, available without the permission of the rights holder.
Following a complaint by a rights holder, these acts would allow website domains to be seized. If the website in question is not a US site or is not hosted in the US, then supporters of the bills want the power to force US search engines to remove links to the website and for US payment networks and advertisers to stop doing business with the site.
Critics of the bills argue that this would give rightsholders too much power and could lead to legitimate websites being suspended or seized without due process.
Last month, an article in the Stanford Law Review described the bills as "an unprecedented, legally sanctioned assault on the Internet’s critical technical infrastructure".
Senior figures in the entertainment industry, which is pushing for the legislation, have dismissed the boycott.
Chris Dodd, the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement: "A so-called 'blackout' is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals."
Last month, Dodd argued that if the Chinese government was able block websites then it should be possible in the US too.
Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, which backs Sopa and Pipa, equated copying a film with publishing pornography and hate speech.
Twitter: Rupert Murdoch - Nonsense argument about danger to Internet. How about Google, others blocking porn, hate speech, etc? Internet hurt?
Sopa has been halted, at least temporarily, following opposition from the White House. However, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia argued that the day of action still needed to go ahead.
He told his Twitter followers: “We have no indication that SOPA is fully off the table. We need to send Washington a BIG message.”
Wales added that Pipa, which is still under consideration by the US Senate, also posed a threat to websites.