SOPA /PIPA didn’t pass, but neither are they dead
PIPA and SOPA are acronyms for the Senate’s Protect Intellectural Property Act and its House companion bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act. According to opponents, this legislation, which was introduced in both Houses of Congress with wide bipartisan support, could destroy the freedom of the Internet as we know it.
In his most recent newsletter, Sen. Mark Udall appeals to constituents who signed online petitions against PIPA and SOPA to keep the pressure on. Even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill from the Senate agenda in the face of intense opposition, Udall points out, “The bill is only being delayed and we must work to ensure that future efforts to stop online piracy don’t threaten innovation and free speech.”
Since many of us thought that PIPA was off the table, the urgency of Udall’s appeal came as a surprise.
Udall supports the purpose of PIPA, as do many legislators from both parties. It was introduced as a bill to protect copyrighted American creative and intellectual products — music, film, literature, etc. — from foreign piracy. “Make no mistake,” Udall said, “Congress must find ways to stop foreign theft and online distribution of illegal content to U.S. consumers.”
But, Udall argues, PIPA “is an example of legislation with harmful unintended consequences. PIPA’s current make-up could stifle online innovation, hamper e-security measures and subject all of us to censorship of our search results by government agencies.”
Support for PIPA /SOPA comes from a long list of organizations representing such industries as cable TV providers; theater owners; TV and film producers, performers and technicians; musicians, publishers and others who depend on copyright to protect their investments in intellectual properties.
PIPA/SOPA was designed to curtail online piracy, especially by foreign sites that sell illegally acquired American entertainment products. By limiting access to these sites, supporters of the plan believed they could save U.S. companies billion of dollars, and staff hundreds of jobs now taken by counterfeiters.
Industry opposition includes Internet giants like Facebook, Google, Flickr, Amazon, eBay — none of which, opponents say, might exist today if PIPA had been in effect when they were created. These organizations were prominent among those facilitating a mass online protest on Jan. 18 estimated at over 115,000 websites to voice objections to PIPA /SOPA.
In addition, according to Wikipedia, which joined in the protest, “On Jan. 18 … more than 8 million people looked up their representative on Wikipedia, a petition at Google recorded over 4.5 million signatures, more than 1 million email messages were sent to Congress through the Electronic Frontier Foundation, for several hours Twitter received over a quarter million tweets an hour concerning SOPA, lawmakers collected more than 14 million names — more than 10 million of them voters.”
No wonder that legislators who had supported PIPA or SOPA bolted in the face of this onslaught. Before the protest, the conflict was between the entertainment industry and the Internet industry corporations. Afterward, it was big corporations against millions of ordinary people — 10 million of them voters.
In response to the outpouring of anti-PIPA/SOPA sentiment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to withdraw the PIPA legislation. His action was followed by the House suspension of SOPA until the bill could be fixed.
As reported on CNET, “The decision to put off the vote is the latest and most decisive sign yet that congressional support for anti-piracy legislation backed by the film and music industries has collapsed. If the opponents haven’t completely succeeded in killing PIPA and a similar bill in the House called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), they are pretty darn close.”
“Because of you,” Udall told his constituents, “Senate leaders have decided to look for a better balance that will protect property while maintaining the open Internet.”
But despite this success, Udall warns his constituents, “The fight is not over … This bill is only being delayed and we must work to ensure that future efforts to stop online piracy don’t threaten innovation and free speech.”
Internet piracy remains an out-of-control abuse of the web that must be addressed. After last week, we can be a little more sure that suppression of intellectual property theft won’t come at the expense of the free and uncensored Internet.