Today (Wednesday, November 16, 2011) is an important day in Washington, DC.

This morning, hearings take place regarding the “Internet Blacklist Bill” – a bill that, if approved, would overturn laws relating to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbor, and would allow any government or corporation to block a website, remove it from a search engine, and/or cut it off from payment processors or advertisers. In response to these hearings, organizations like Wikimedia, Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla, and many more are joining together to declare American Censorship Day.

If approved, this bill would have disastrous effects for Wikipedia and its sister projects.

Why is this bill an issue for a project like Wikipedia?

In a nutshell, Wikipedia relies on Creative Commons licenses and a series of established, community-led open collaboration processes to ensure that its information and media are a part of free culture, and that copyrighted materials (which may inadvertently end up on Wikipedia or its sister projects) can be quickly and effectively removed so we remain in compliance with US copyright law.  Our global, volunteer community understands these laws well – maybe better than any other online community on the net – and they work hard to ensure that everything on Wikipedia and its sister sites complies with the law.

The Internet Blacklist Bill would change all of that.  The bill would allow corporations, organizations, or the government to order an internet service provider to block an entire website simply due to an allegation that the site posted infringing content.  In addition, sites like Wikipedia could be required to monitor for any “banned” links, resulting in delegated proactive censorship of the Web, not to mention significant additional costs to Wikipedia, a site of a non-profit charity.  Useful international sources of knowledge and information – which often serve as a basis for our articles and projects – could be blacklisted if rights owners simply felt that there was some infringing content. Individual contributors could face criminal liability for posting or sharing a copyright work for what we consider to be common fair-use situations.  The DMCA system, which allows Wikimedia and its volunteer community to quickly remove copyright-violating material at the request of the copyright owner, would be overturned.  In short, our users and all of our projects, would be forced to operate in an untenable legislative environment, putting Wikipedia at the beck and call of the rights owners as opposed to the distribution of free knowledge. Simply put, this bill is a reckless and burdensome model in Internet censorship.

The future of Wikipedia, the free knowledge movement, and tens of thousands of open and free projects is at stake, and we must stand up to oppose this bill.  Join us in these efforts by spreading the word.  If you are in the United States, contact your local government representative, and take a stand on American Censorship Day.

Jay Walsh, Communications