Jimmy Wales proposed the blackout, saying a “public uprising” was required to halt the progress of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) through Congress.
“Right now, what I'm thinking is that if there is a credible threat that this might happen, this could have a positive impact on the thinking of some legislators,” he said in a posting to his personal page.
“Do not underestimate our power - in my opinion, they are terrified of a public uprising about this, and we are uniquely positioned to start that,” he added.
Mr Wales said a “community strike” in which the English version of Wikipedia would be shut down worldwide would put most pressure on Congressmen. He invited Wikipedians, as contributors to the non-profit website are known, to give their views on such action in preparation for a more formal poll.
Wikipedians have previously used similar tactics to apply political pressure, albeit on a smaller scale. For three days in October, visitors to the Italian version of the encyclopaedia were greeted only by a statement criticising new laws that would have forced it to immediately delete material in response to defamation claimsThe Italian Parliament backed down immediately,” said Mr Wales, who co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 and now serves as “chair emeritus” of the Wikimedia Foundation, the charity that funds the website.
“As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of "Stop Online Piracy Act' is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track,” he added.
“My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case.”
Mr Wales is attending a series of meetings in Washington DC this week with representatives of the web industry in an attempt to persuade politicians to block SOPA. Google, Facebook, Twitter and others claim the laws “pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation's cybersecurity”.
Scores of Wikipedians have weighed in on Mr Wales’ proposal for a Wikipedia strike, with most registering their support since he made it on Saturday. The most controversial provisions of SOPA would force websites that carry user-generated material, as Wikipedia, to impose new restrictions or constantly monitor activity, it’s claimed.
“At a minimum, this means that any service that hosts user generated content is going to be under enormous pressure to actively monitor and filter that content,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.
Supporters of the Bill argue it will protect copyright holders from pirate websites that circumvent existing laws, such as unlicensed film streaming services based overseas.