Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

The Day the Web Went Dark

“Imagine a world without free knowledge.”

That’s the phrase that has been greeting visitors to the English-language sections of Wikipedia since midnight Eastern Time. Other sites, like BoingBoing, began their protest just minutes ago as I’m writing this at 8 am ET. BoingBoing displayed a “503: Service Unavailable” message against a black background, saying it was “because the U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would certainly kill us forever.”

They were just two examples of the coordinated Web-wide protest taking place against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and a companion bill, PIPA. Numerous other major sites were also taking part, according to, a site boosting the protest. Mozilla and were taking part by blacking out their sites and directing visitors to take-action pages. The Internet Archive was to go dark for 12 hours today, beginning at 6 am PT. Google covered most of its colorful logo in a black banner and placed a link to a take-action page on its home page.

Many Internet companies are railing against the bills because, they argue, the provisions included amount to censorship and don’t properly protect sites accused unfairly of enabling piracy. In a post on its company blog, Google chief legal officer David Drummond wrote that the bills “provide incentives for American companies to shut down, block access to and stop servicing U.S. and foreign websites that copyright and trademark owners allege are illegal without any due process or ability of a wrongfully targeted website to seek restitution.” Under SOPA and PIPA, sites like Google could find themselves in legal hot water just for linking to pirated content in search results. “We know from experience that these powers are on the wish list of oppressive regimes throughout the world,” Drummond wrote.

Supporters of the two bills argue that the laws are necessary to clamp down on sites that operate outside the U.S., enabling the circulation of pirated films, TV shows and other copyrighted content.

Chris Dodd, the former senator who is now President of the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a blog post that the protests on the Web are “stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.”

The White House had announced over the weekend that President Obama doesn’t support either SOPA or PIPA in their current forms.

Update: A few folks have pointed out to me that Wikipedia is still technically available via smart phones and mobile devices. Also if you disable Javascript in your computer’s browser it circumvents the blackout. There’s more on that in this FAQ on Wikipedia’s blackout and also in this technical FAQ.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”