Has the SOPA/PIPA protest and blackout killed the bills?
The anti-SOPA/PIPA movement has enlisted the support of millions of Internet users, who have signed petitions and contacted legislators with objections to the bills. Will petitions and demands of constituents effectively halt passage of the bills? The New York Times reported on January 18 that 30 legislators, including a co-sponsor of the Senate bill, had withdrawn their support for the bills as written. The White House issued a statement that, although recognizing online piracy by foreign websites as a problem, expressed concern about “legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The House of Representatives will continue consideration of SOPA in February. The Senate is expected to begin the voting process on January 24 as scheduled, but without the most controversial measures.
Those events suggest the bills, if passed, will do so in altered forms. It remains to be seen to what degree that will represent victory for the Internet community and a loss for the entertainment industry.
Opponents cite SOPA and PIPA as dangers to free exchange of information, small businesses and Internet security
Objections to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) suggest the bills will restrict Internet access by innocent parties, expose accused websites to damage without due process, and threaten Internet security. It is hard to understate the impact of the Internet on American social and commercial activity. Innovation and growth in telecommunications, consumer sales and information sharing rely on agile, secure Internet-based services. Under the bills as written, a court order could force search engines to block access to a website that linked to a site accused of violating copyright law. An innocent, intermediary site would have little recourse or compensation for loss of business or customer base.
Taking the protest beyond the Internet
The SOPA and PIPA protest movement achieved peak visibility on January 18. On that day, Internet giants serving hundreds of millions of users joined in active protest against the bills. Wikipedia, a community-generated encyclopedia, blacked out its site for 24 hours—during which traffic exceeded the average by 50%. Others, such as Google, displayed black censorship bands, linked to anti-SOPA/PIPA petitions and exhorted visitors to contact their legislators with objections to the bills. The movement spread from cyberspace to the streets as protestors gathered in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. to call attention to their cause.
Will government controls quelch the Internet as an engine for social and economic growth?
At one time the Internet was the playground of a splinter of society. Today it hosts our primary channels of communication. Most legislators who reversed their positions on SOPA and PIPA made their announcements through Twitter and Facebook, sites that expressed concern that the proposed legislation would put them at risk. Cyberspace offers entrepreneurs and niche marketers an environment that allows them to connect with and serve customers in new and productive ways. Government controls on economic activity have traditionally favored large enterprises rather than small and innovative players. When Jimmy Wales switched Wikipedia off on January 18, he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr on Twitter, emphasizing the importance of grass roots defense of liberties:
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…”