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‘Black Wednesday’ begins in earnest on the Internet

If an Internet site goes dark, does anyone really care?

If an Internet site goes dark, does anyone really care?

You might find out this morning now that 'Black Wednesday' has begun in earnest, with major Internet sites going dark, or engaging in some form of virtual protest of anti-piracy legislation.

Wikipedia, which has kicked up a ruckus over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), redirects users to this message headlined: "Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge."

"For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history," the message continues. "Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia."

Any attempt to perform a search redirects a user back toward the message.

And Google, which is still fully functional, has blacked-out its logo. The words, "Tell Congress: Please don't censor the web" appear when a user places a mouse over the logo.

The two bills in the House and Senate are backed by large media companies within the media industry, which says many Internet sites steal content, such as music, movies, software and text considered intellectual property.

But sites such as Wikipedia claim that SOPA and PIPA go too far in their attempt to stop copyright infringement. Wikipedia says the bills will, "do so in a way that actually infringes free expression while harming the Internet."

Wikipedia, which is helping lead today's charge by Internet sites, says it is self-policing and the legislation places, "the burden on website owners to police user-contributed material and call for the unnecessary blocking of entire sites."

And the popular Craigslist has also gone dark, but users can still access the site after a message appears, and a link to the regular search page emerges after a few moments.

"Imagine a world without craigslist, Wikipedia, Google ..." it says against a black screen, "News Corp, RIAA, MPAA, Nike, Sony, Comcast, VISA & others want to make that world your reality."

The blackouts could help to test how much the world depends on some major Internet sites.

Already, Wikipedia's self-imposed blackout is not going over with some of its volunteers editors, who believe the protest of anti-piracy legislation could threaten the credibility of their work.

"My main concern is that it puts the organization in the role of advocacy, and that's a slippery slope," said editor Robert Lawton, a Michigan computer consultant who would prefer that the encyclopedia stick to being a neutral repository of knowledge. "Before we know it, we're blacked out because we want to save the whales."

Wikipedia's English-language site shut down at midnight Eastern Standard Time Tuesday and the organization said it would stay down for 24 hours.

One of the site's own "five pillars" of conduct says that Wikipedia "is written from a neutral point of view." The site strives to "avoid advocacy, and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them."

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales argues that the site can maintain neutrality in content even as it takes public positions on issues.

The website Reddit shutdown for 12 hours starting at 8 a.m.