January 18 is a date that will live in ignorance, as Wikipedia started a 24-hour blackout of its English-language articles, joining other sites in a protest of pending U.S. legislation aimed at shutting down sites that share pirated movies and other content.

The Internet sites are not alone.

Raleigh-based Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), developer of open source Linux software, spoke out against the proposed laws in a blog written by its legal team.

Also, Cary-based Epic Games has said it opposes the legislation even though it is a member of the Entertainment Software Association, which backs the bills.

“Two bills pending in the US Congress – the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA in the House, and the “PROTECT IP Act” or PIPA in the Senate – raise enormous concerns for North Carolina home grown technology companies like Red Hat,” Red Hat’s lawyers wrote. “At a time when we are working to rebuild confidence in our economy, their potential effect on jobs and innovation is a matter of serious concern.

“As America’s – and the world’s – largest and most successful provider of open source solutions and an S&P 500 company, Red Hat is proud to be headquartered in Raleigh. Our high-quality, affordable technology solutions are found throughout the mission-critical IT architecture of the financial, defense, transportation, telecommunications and most other industry sectors.

“Our success and, increasingly, the economic success of our state is the product of the encouragement of open innovation and collaboration. A vital ingredient of this success involves leveraging the tremendous gains that the Internet has brought through online collaboration, software development and sharing of ideas.”

Web Protests

Reddit.com shut down its social news service for 12 hours. Other sites made their views clear without cutting off surfers.

Google blacked out the logo on its home page, directing surfers to a page where they could add their names to a petition against the bills.

Local listings site Craiglist took a middle route, changing its local home pages to a black screen directing users to an anti-legislation page. After 10 seconds, a link to the main site appears on the home page, but some surfers missed that and were fooled into thinking the whole site was blacked out.

The Internet companies are concerned that the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act under consideration in the Senate, if passed, could be used to target legitimate sites where users share content. (Read more details here.)

The 24-hour Wikipedia blackout is an unprecedented move for the online encyclopedia. The decision was reached after polling the community of contributors, but dissenters say political advocacy undermines the site’s mission as a neutral source.

However, it’s not complete: the block can be bypassed by changing browser settings to disable JavaScript, or by using the version of the site designed for cellphone screens.

There’s also a “mirror” or copy, of Wikipedia called The Free Dictionary, but it’s not up to date.

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.