This morning, Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement today that he will postpone next week’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Update: Rep. Lamar Smith followed with a statement that he would also halt consideration of SOPA. This is a historic victory for the Internet community. Collectively, millions of people rose up and told Washington that these bills shall not pass.
An unprecedented day of online protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PIPA in the U.S. Senate and the resulting coverage on cable and broadcast news networks had an effect.
“Senator Reid made the right decision in postponing next week’s vote on PIPA,” said Center for Democracy and Technology president Leslie Harris. “It’s time for a hard reset on this issue. We need a thoughtful and substantive process that includes all Internet stakeholders. We need to take a hard look at the facts and find solutions that honor the Internet’s openness and its unique capacity for innovation and free expression. We are thankful for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden who from the beginning stood against this bill; his early opposition and leadership gave voice to the important concerns of the Internet community.”
Wikipedia, Google, BoingBoing, Reddit, O’Reilly Media and thousands of other blogs asked their communities to take a stand and contact Washington.
“The amazing thing is that the power of these networks delivered,” wrote David Binetti in TechCrunch. “By the end of the day, 25 Senators — including at least 5 former co-sponsors of the bill — had announced their opposition to SOPA. Think about that for just a second: A well-organized, well-funded, well-connected, well-experienced lobbying effort on Capitol Hill was outflanked by an ad-hoc group of rank amateurs, most of whom were operating independent of one another and on their spare time. Regardless where you stand on the issue — and effective copyright protection is an important issue — this is very good news for the future of civic engagement.”
I concur with that last point. Last night, we finally saw one of the most important questions about the future of the Internet and society asked in a presidential debate: all four GOP candidates for the presidential nomination came out against SOPA at the CNN debate.
As shown by ProPublica’s excellent SOPA Tracker, SOPA and PIPA now have 122 opponents in the House and Senate, four times as many as on Monday.
These bills are not “dead,” no matter what headlines you read today, although I can now say with some confidence that they will not pass in their current form. There are ongoing negotiations to redraft them, cutting DNS filtering provisions or search engine blocks in an effort to make them acceptable to technology companies like Google.
While the Internet mattered this week, it’s important to recognize that but for the efforts of Senator Ron Wyden, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Jared Polis and Rep. Zoe Logren, I believe SOPA and PIPA would likely have passed. Senator Wyden put a critical hold on the PROTECT IP Act after it sailed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Those representatives proposed dozens of amendments to SOPA in a marathon, days-long markup session that effectively filibustered the bill, delayed it until the House came back into session in January. That delay enabled hundreds of organizations and individuals, including newspaper editors, human rights advocates, academics, engineers and public interest groups, to rally to save the Internet as we know it.
“Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation,” Issa said in an emailed statement. “Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work.
“Postponing the Senate vote on PIPA removes the imminent threat to the Internet, but it’s not over yet. Copyright infringement remains a serious problem and any solution must be targeted, effective, and consistent with how the Internet works. After inviting all stakeholders to help improve American intellectual property protections, I have introduced the bipartisan OPEN Act with Senator Rob Wyden which can be read and commented on at KeepTheWebOPEN.com. It is clear that Congress needs to have more discussion and education about the workings of the Internet before it moves forward on sweeping legislation to address intellectual property theft on the Internet. I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to achieve a needed consensus about the way forward.”
In the meantime, everyone who participated in this week’s unprecedented day of online action should know that what they did this week mattered. If you’d asked me about the prospects for the passage of these bills back in December — and many people did, after I wrote a feature at Radar in November that highlighted the threat these anti-piracy bills presented to the Internet, security and freedom of expression online — I estimated that it was quite likely. So did Chris Dodd, the head of the MPAA, who told the New York Times that these passage of these bills was “considered by many to be a ‘slam dunk.'”
We’re now in unexplored territory. I’ve been writing about how the Internet affects government and government affects the Internet for years now. This week was clearly a tipping point in that space. The voices of the people, expressed in calls, letters, tweets, petitions and protests, were heard in Washington. There are incredibly difficult challenges that face us as a country and as a global community, from jobs to healthcare to the environment to civil liberties to smoldering wars around the world. What happened this week, however, will reinvigorate the notion that participating in the civic process matters. Here’s to working on stuff that matters, together.