Wikipedia blacked out the English language version of its website yesterday in protest at anti-piracy laws being considered by the US government.
Users attempting to access the site were met with a black screen and the statement: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”
The website, which shut down at 5am British time, was to stay dark for 24 hours in an unprecedented move that brings added muscle to a growing base of critics of the legislation.
Wikipedia is considered one of the internet’s most popular websites, with millions of visitors daily.
“If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States,” the Wikimedia foundation said.
The Stop Online Piracy Act in the US House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act under consideration in the Senate are designed to crack down on sales of pirated US products overseas.
Supporters include the film and music industry, which often sees its products sold illegally. They say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.
Critics say the laws could hurt the technology industry and infringe free-speech. The most controversial provision is in the House bill, which would have enabled authorities to “blacklist” sites and essentially cut off portions of the internet to all US users.
Tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, eBay, AOL and others have spoken out against the legislation.
Several online communities such as Reddit, Boing Boing and others have announced plans to go dark in protest as well.
The Obama administration also raised concerns about the legislation over the weekend and said it would work with Congress on laws to help battle piracy and counterfeiting while defending free expression on the internet.