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Wikipedia weighing protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act

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The English version of Wikipedia, one of the most visited websites in the world, may soon shut down entirely to protest legislation under debate in the U.S. Congress.

The U.S. Senate will address the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on Friday. Proponents say the legislation provides necessary tools in combating copyright theft and other forms of piracy online.

The bill’s opponents, including major Internet and tech companies such as Google, Yahoo, and EBay—not to mention social networking services like Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit—claim the bill amounts to little more than censorship and could cripple the Internet.

Sen. Ron Wyden has even promised to filibuster a Senate vote by reading the names of anyone who signs up on his site, StopCensorship.org.

On Saturday, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales proposed shutting down the English section of Wikpedia in protest:

“One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government.”

Wales noted that a similar strike worked in the past.

“A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately.

“My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case,” Wales added.

Still, if the reaction of the Wikipedia community is any indication, the free encyclopedia really may soon go dark. Messages of “support” have been piling up on Wales’ user page since he posted the message Saturday.

“The average American who knows nothing about SOPA is still likely to use Wikipedia pretty frequently,” wrote one anonymous user. “I think it's a fantastic way to raise awareness about this ridiculous censorship bill.”

Wales called the vote a “straw poll” and suggested that, even with overwhelming support from the community, the organization is far from making up its mind about a potential strike.

Many Wikipedians did voice staunch opposition to a blackout. Though most shared Wales’ distaste for SOPA, they seemed to believe the encyclopedia has no right inserting itself into political debates.

“Wikipedia cannot hold democratically elected law makers to ransom every time that they do something that wikipedians don't like,” Wikpedia user Jamie Kitson wrote, opposing the proposal.

“Wikipedia is a ‘free encyclopedia,’ not a lobbying tool,” added user French Tourist.