If you hear a cry of anguish today, chances are it's coming from a student who had expected to use Wikipedia for a school project and realized that the site is not available.
In response to the Wikipedia community's opposition to SOPA/PIPA, the English-language version of the site is being "blacked out" for 24 hours, starting at midnight Eastern time on January 18.
On January 16, the Wikimedia Foundation released this statement, which includes the following explanation for its act of protest:
My hope is that when Wikipedia shuts down on January 18, people will understand that we’re doing it for our readers. We support everyone’s right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. We think everyone should have access to educational material on a wide range of subjects, even if they can’t pay for it. We believe in a free and open Internet where information can be shared without impediment. We believe that new proposed laws like SOPA and PIPA, and other similar laws under discussion inside and outside the United States, don’t advance the interests of the general public.
Opposition to SOPA/PIPA does not end with Wikipedia. Other websites are also observing today's blackout, including Boing Boing and Reddit. (Conversely, it is interesting to note those that support SOPA). Prominent members of the library community have also voiced their strong opposition to this legislation, including Sarah Houghton and Jessamyn West.
Meanwhile, the sponsors of the two bills, Texas Rep. Lamar Smith and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, called the blackout a "publicity stunt," and sought to allay the public's fears about the legislation.
Trying to bridge the gap between the two sides of the issue, the White House issued this response to a petition -- which gathered 51,689 signatures -- asking for a Presidential veto of the SOPA bill. Chief among its arguments:
While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.
At this point, it is unclear what these bills' future will be. However, given the strong feelings involved, and the fact that so many people will be affected by the blackout, it is imperative that you educate yourself on these issues and make your own voice heard.
And by the way, if you're finding yourself adrift without Wikipedia, try Gale Virtual Reference Library, one of many authoritative research resources available through The Public Library of Brookline.