Why German Wikipedia is down for 24 hours

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Why German Wikipedia is down for 24 hours
Wikipedia. Image: DPA

German language Wikipedia is down all day on the 21st of March as part of a protest against new European copyright laws.


In place of the usual Wikipedia site, for Thursday visitors will see a black screen with white writing describing the reasons for the protest. 

The black screen is led with a capitalized banner which says “This is our last chance. Help us to modernize copyright in Europe.”

At the centre of the campaign is a European copyright law reform, which Wikipedia says “could severely restrict the free internet” and “significantly affect freedom of opinion, art and the press”. 

Currently, platforms such as YouTube are not responsible for copyright violations - although they are required to remove content which is found to be breaching copyright. The new laws will shift the balance, making companies liable for copyrighted content that appears on their platforms. 

Critics argue that as a result companies will need to build large content filters which may change the way in which online material has been posted and shared throughout its brief history. 

On Thursday several Germans tweeted about the protest and why it's happening.

A number of other European companies are also on board with the protest efforts. In total, more than 130 businesses have indicated their support, while more than 5 million Europeans have signed a petition in protest of the new laws. 

German Wikipedia attracts 1.3 million visitors per hour, making it the seventh-most visited site in Germany. Worldwide it is the fifth most-popular internet site. 

Article 13

The proposed laws at the centre of the protest are Articles 11 and 13, with the latter drawing much of the Internet’s ire. 

The Articles form part of the European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, which seeks to regulate how copyrighted content is shared online. 

Article 13 would require websites - including YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia - to prevent material which is subject to a copyright from being shared on their platforms. 

While the EU has said the reforms will protect the rights of creators and direct a greater degree of revenue from large internet companies towards artists and journalists, critics have argued that it would require companies to set up large, costly and time-consuming content upload filters.

The message that greeted German Wikipedia users on March 21. Image: Wikipedia

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit company protecting digital civil liberties, said the proposed changes amounted to a "dangerous experiment with the core foundation of the Internet’s ecosystem."

As reported by Wired, the impact of the reforms could be the banning of memes and the sharing of other content which have an element of copyright. 

Wikipedia itself is exempt from Article 13 (but not from Article 11 which would require sites which publish copyright material to acquire a licence), but has decided to join the protest as a means of solidarity with other internet companies - as well as to indicate a broad objection to the laws. 

Prospects for success? 

This is not the first time that the site has taken to protest to get its message across. In 2012 American Wikipedia also shut down due to copyright protests – a move with which the German site also participated. 

Organizational researcher Maximilian Heimstädt told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the protests prevented the copyright laws from being passed and were largely seen as a success. 

“The (proposed) laws were later withdrawn, and the blackout made a contribution.”

Where to go from here?

The European Union will hold a vote on the laws on the week of March 25th, with some suggestions indicating the day of the vote will be Wednesday March 27th. 

Mass demonstrations are planned in cities across the EU for March 23rd under the ‘Save the Internet’ banner.

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