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Italian Wikipedia shuts down in protest of EU law

July 3, 2018

Wikipedia Italia has said that the bill puts "freedom of internet at risk." Newspaper publishers have argued that the law is necessary to protect the future of journalism.

Italian Wikipedia
Image: wikipedia.org

The Italian version of Wikipedia will be shut down for two days, a spokesman confirmed on Tuesday. The move came as a protest of a planned new European Union copyright directive that would implement new rules about licenses for content and, according to critics, places a heavy burden on IT companies to police what users upload.

"Freedom of internet at risk," reads the message now posted on the site.

Deputy prime minister and leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), Luigi Di Maio, said he wholeheartedly supported the protest.

"We welcomed the support of the government," Maurizio Codogno, a spokesman for Wikipedia Italia, was quoted by Italian news agency ANSA as saying.

"We hope that the M5S members of the European Parliament are in line with Di Maio (when the directive is voted on in the European Parliament on July 5)."

Although the EU parliament has said that Wikipedia was excluded from the law as an encyclopedia, the company said its protest was in solidarity with others who would be affected.

Wikipedia "did not take action just to save itself but also to defend the free Web" and to "preserve the Web as a space that is open to less visible realities," Codogno said.

The online information hub was joined by 70 computer scientists, including creator of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, 169 academics and 145 human rights, press freedom, and scientific research organizations in a letter of condemnation of the proposed law.

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Carlo Perrone, who heads the European Newspapers Publishers Association (ENPA), accused Wikipedia of tunnel vision, ignoring the negative effects of stealing content on journalistic integrity.

"(Wikipedia's position) goes well beyond copyright and reflects a deeper debate that does not just cover press freedom, but the functioning of our democracies too," Perrone said.

"This is not just threatened by the economic sustainability of the press, but also by unacceptable, misleading campaigns by platforms to influence the European Parliament."

According to Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano, a spokesmen for the European Commissions office for the digital single market said that the law was necessary to combat the "large amounts of copyrighted content that have been uploaded by users who do not own the rights."

Both Wikipedia Italia and IT experts have argued that the law not only poses a threat to creative freedom, but that it also has not been debated long enough for the less tech-savvy parliamentarians to understand what they're voting on.

Wikipedia will be dark in Italy until Thursday, the day the proposed bill is set to be voted on in Brussels.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.