The QueQue: They saved the internet, Texas, king of the Greenhouse, Occupy the federal courthouse
Published: January 18, 2012
They saved the internet
Grassroots activism and loud criticism from the technophiles among us may have trumped Big Hollywood this time. Though the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) championed by GOP San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith seemed all but inevitable in late 2011, it now appears dead in the water.
In their original forms, SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), would have given copyright owners authority to shutter websites accused of copyright infringement, allowing for supposed infringing sites to be blocked from the Domain Name System (sites would appear blocked or as if they didn't exist at all). Nearly half of the Senate endorsed its version, while 32 reps in the House touted the controversial bill, authored and pushed by Smith, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. In an analysis of campaign contributions, campaign finance watchdogs at Maplight.org found that since the 2010 election cycle, SOPA's 32 House sponsors took in nearly 4 times as much in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from those in the software and internet industries, nearly $2 million versus $500,000.
Big players in the internet community (Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, among others), venture capitalists, and tech bloggers, whom Congressman Smith wrote off as a "vocal minority," came out in droves against the bill, saying it would increase operating costs and stomp out innovation, forcing web companies to check each link on their sites — even user-generated posts — to ensure they didn't link to "infringing" content. Rackspace Hosting CEO Lanham Napier wrote on his company blog that "in the name of policing the online theft of intellectual property, key lawmakers are pushing a cure that's worse than the disease." Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame wrote in Popular Mechanics that SOPA was not only "anticonstitutional" but would destroy the internet as we know it.
Reddit commenters in December boycotted web-hosting company GoDaddy for its support of SOPA, eventually prodding GoDaddy to change its stance on the bill, signaling a sea change. With support dropping and opposition growing louder, Smith last week killed the controversial website-blocking provision of his bill, and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor insisted SOPA wouldn't come up for a vote until the ensuing controversy was settled. President Obama announced over the weekend he still couldn't support key portions of SOPA.
So the bill's dead, at least for the time being. But, just in case, Wikipedia, as of Tuesday, was still planning to march forward with its Wednesday blackout, hoping to give lawmakers a taste of what a post-SOPA internet would look like. Thanks to boycotts, bloggers, tweeters, and loud opposition from the tech world, we may never have to really know.