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Wikipedia to blackout English site Wednesday in protest

For those of you who — like myself — learn a lot of what you know from reading articles on Wikipedia, you’re going to have to Google a little bit harder for 24 hours on Wednesday.

The nonprofit “Free Encyclopedia” (which hosts 20 million articles in 283 languages, according to the “Wikipedia” Wikipedia article) announced Monday that it would stage a blackout of its English articles in protest of the proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and PROTECTIP (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Post defined the bills back in October better than I could (even after trying to summarize the actual bill text):

It would allow the FBI to seek injunctions against foreign Web sites that steal music, films, software and other intellectual property created by U.S. firms. The bill also includes provision that could hold third parties — payment-processing and other partners — responsible for piracy and counterfeiting on other sites, some critics say.

Since Wikipedia articles can be written and edited by anyone worldwide, its founders, authors and supporters believe the legislation poses a threat and provides “new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States.”

Wikipedia administrators released a statement Monday announcing their protest, stating: “It is the opinion of the English Wikipedia community that both of these bills, if passed, would be devastating to the free and open web.”

Its co-founder, Jimmy Wales, also said in a statement:

This is an extraordinary action for our community to take — and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that SOPA and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.

According to Google, Wikipedia was the sixth most-visited website on the Web in July 2011, with 410,000,000 unique visitors and 6 billion pageviews (which makes Web journalists like myself who track site statistics very envious).

It is the highest website on the list to not have any advertising, something its founders value, and why you saw those ads at the top of most articles late last year asking for donations.

Addition at 2 p.m.

Daniel Terdiman, a writer at c|net (or CNET.com), points out a way around the blackout — just in case you can’t go another minute without learning about Deaths in 2011 or finding a list of “Glee” episodes.