Wikipedia went dark, Google blotted out its logo, and other popular websites planned protests on Wednesday to voice concern over legislation in the US Congress intended to crack down on online piracy.
As this developed, Yahoo, Inc., co-founder Jerry Yang quit the company he started in 1995, appeasing shareholders who had blasted the Internet pioneer for pursuing an ineffective personal vision and impeding investment deals that could have transformed the struggling company.
Wikipedia shut down the English version of its online encyclopedia for 24 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate version, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Google placed a black redaction box over the logo on its much-visited US home page to draw attention to the bills, while social news site reddit and the popular Cheezburger humor network planned to shut down later in the day.
The draft legislation has won the backing of Hollywood, the music industry, the Business Software Alliance, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce.
But it has come under fire from digital rights and free speech organizations for allegedly paving the way for US authorities to shut down websites accused of online piracy, including foreign sites, without due process.
“For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history,” Wikipedia said in a message posted at midnight (0500 GMT) on its darkened website.
“Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”
The founders of Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yahoo! and other Internet giants said in an open letter last month the legislation would give the US government censorship powers “similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.”
“We oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” a Google spokesman said Tuesday.
“So tomorrow we will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our US home page,” the spokesman for the Internet search giant said.
Reddit said it would shut down for 12 hours – from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (1300 GMT to 0100 GMT) – to protest the legislation.
“We wouldn’t do this if we didn’t believe this legislation and the forces behind it were a serious threat to reddit and the Internet as we know it,” reddit said.
“The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy.”
Ben Huh, the founder of Cheezburger network, said on his Twitter feed that his 58 sites, which include icanhascheezburger.com, FAIL Blog and The Daily What, will observe a blackout on Wednesday.
NY Tech Meetup, an entrepreneurial group that counts more than 20,000 members, has meanwhile planned a demonstration to protest the legislation outside the Manhattan offices of New York senators later in the day.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced the plans to shut down the site in a message on his Twitter feed.
“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!” Wales said.
“This is going to be wow. I hope Wikipedia will melt phone systems in Washington on Wednesday. Tell everyone you know!” he said.
Yang’s abrupt departure comes two weeks after Yahoo appointed Scott Thompson its new CEO, with a mandate to return the once-leading Internet portal to the heights it enjoyed in the 1990s.
Wall Street views the exit of “Chief Yahoo” Yang as smoothing the way for a major infusion of cash from private equity, or a deal to sell off much of its 40 percent slice of China’s Alibaba, unlocking value for shareholders.
Shares of Yahoo gained 3 percent in after-hours trade.
“Everyone is going to assume this means a deal is more likely with the Asia counterparts,” Macquarie analyst Ben Schacter said. “The perception among shareholders was Jerry was more focused on trying to rebuild Yahoo than necessarily on maximizing near-term shareholder value.
“It certainly seems things are coming to a head as far as realizing the value of these assets.”
Yang, who is severing all formal ties with the company by resigning all positions including his seat on the board of directors, has come under fire for his handling of company affairs dating back to an aborted sale to Microsoft in 2008.
Yang’s exit comes roughly a month before dissident shareholders can nominate rival directors to Yahoo’s board.
By CHRIS LEFKOW