Wikipedia’s Italian and Spanish language versions have temporarily shut off access to their respective versions of the free online encyclopedia in Europe to protest against controversial components of a copyright reform package ahead of a key vote in the EU parliament tomorrow.
Update: Polish Wikipedia has also now joined the black out.
The protest follows a vote by the EU parliament’s legal affairs committee last month which backed the reforms — including the two most controversial elements: Article 13, which makes platforms directly liable for copyright infringements by their users — pushing them towards pre-filtering all content uploads, with all the associated potential chilling effects for free expression; and Article 11, which targets news aggregator business models by creating a neighboring right for snippets of journalistic content — aka ‘the link tax’, as critics dub it.
Visitors to Wikipedia in many parts of the EU (and further afield) are met with a banner which urges them to defend the open Internet against the controversial proposal by calling their MEP to voice their opposition to a measure critics describe as ‘censorship machines’, warning it will “weaken the values, culture and ecosystem on which Wikipedia is based”.
Clicking on a button to ‘call your MEP’ links through to anti-Article 13 campaign website, saveyourinternet.eu, where users can search for the phone number of their MEP and/or send an email to protest against the measure. The initiative is backed by a large coalition of digital and civil rights groups — including the EFF, the Open Rights Group, and the Center for Democracy & Technology.
In a longer letter to visitors explaining its action, the Spanish Wikipedia community writes that: “If the proposal were approved in its current version, actions such as sharing a news item on social networks or accessing it through a search engine would become more complicated on the Internet; Wikipedia itself would be at risk.”
The Spanish language version of Wikipedia will remain dark throughout the EU parliament vote — which is due to take place at 10 o’clock (UTC) on July 5.
“We want to continue offering an open, free, collaborative and free work with verifiable content. We call on all members of the European Parliament to vote against the current text, to open it up for discussion and to consider the numerous proposals of the Wikimedia movement to protect access to knowledge; among them, the elimination of articles 11 and 13, the extension of the freedom of panorama to the whole EU and the preservation of the public domain,” it adds.
The Italian language version of Wikipedia went dark yesterday.
While the protest banners about the reform are appearing widely across Wikipedia, the decisions to block out encyclopedia content are less widespread — and are being taken by each local community of editors.
As you’d expect, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has been a very vocal critic of Article 13 — including lashing out at whoever was in control of the European Commission’s Twitter feed yesterday when they tried to suggest that online encyclopedias will not be affected by the proposal — by suggesting they would not be “considered” to be giving access to “large amounts of unauthorised protected content” by claiming most of their content would fall outside the scope of the law because it’s covered by Creative Commons licenses. (An interpretation of the proposed rules that anti-Article 13 campaigners dispute.)
And the commissioners drafting this portion of the directive do appear to have been mostly intending to regulate YouTube — which has been a target for record industry ire in recent years, over the relatively small royalties paid to artists vs streaming music services.
But critics argue this is a wrongheaded, sledgehammer-to-crack a nut approach to lawmaking — which will have the unintended consequence of damaging free expression and access to information online.
Wales shot back at the EC’s tweet — saying it’s “deeply inappropriate for the European Commission to be lobbying publicly and misleading the public in this way”.
A little later in the same Twitter thread, as more users had joined the argument, he added: “The Wikipedia community is not so narrow minded as to let the rest of the Internet suffer just because we are big enough that they try to throw us a bone. Justice matters.”
The EU parliament will vote as a whole tomorrow — when we’ll find out whether or not MEPs have been swayed by this latest #SaveYourInternet campaign.