The January 18 blackout of Wikipedia, Reddit, and other Web sites in protest of the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, prompted several legislators to withdraw their support for the bills. Because of the dwindling support of officeholders and immense public opposition, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared the Senate would not conduct a procedural vote scheduled for January.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX) announced the morning of the so-called Internet “SOPA Strike” they would withdraw their support for the bills as currently written. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)—one of the original sponsors of PIPA—also withdrew his support, declaring the bill “simply not ready for prime time.”
Rubio commented on his Facebook page: “As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators, and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs,” he wrote. “However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.”
Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Scott Brown (R-MA), and Roy Blunt (R-MO)—another PIPA cosponsor—joined Rubio, Cornyn, and Hatch in their opposition to PIPA. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader, asserted on January 19 that PIPA would not come to a vote.
Washington, Manhattan Protests, Blowback
SOPA and PIPA were drafted to combat illegal downloads of copyrighted material, and have been strongly promoted by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. Former Democrat senator Christopher Dodd is the current president of the MPAA. The bills would grant the Justice Department authority to prevent ISPs and search engines from linking to sites suspected of pirating copyrighted content.
The SOPA Strike inspired a Manhattan rally attended by an estimated few hundred protestors outside the offices of Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)—two more PIPA cosponsors.
The White House issued an online statement on January 14 signed by Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Special Assistant to the President Howard Schmidt. According to the statement: “While we believe that online piracy by foreign Web sites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”.
Nikki Finke, a reporter for the Deadline Hollywood Web site, wrote Hollywood studios may conduct a boycott of contributions for President Obama’s reelection campaign as retaliation. “We just feel very let down by the administration and Obama for not supporting us,” Finke quoted one studio chief as saying. She quoted “another movie mogul who’s also a well-known Obama supporter” as telling her, “At least let [the President] remain neutral and not go against it until we can get the legislation right. But Obama went against it. I’m personally not going to support him anymore and not give a dime anymore.”
SOPA and Citizens United
Opponents of the SOPA Strike included some Wikipedia contributors, who stated the Web site should remain neutral on all political issues. Others argued SOPA and PIPA pose no threat of Internet censorship and companies should not withdraw services from users to protest legislative measures.
Both the Washington, DC-based Institute for Justice and the Wall Street Journal noted that the protests against SOPA vindicate the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, because such companies as Wikipedia and Google exerted tremendous influence to convince Congress to abandon the bills.
“Whether the anti-piracy bills would result in censorship of the Internet is an important question worthy of debate,” wrote IJ’s Darpena Sheth. “But what is beyond question is that corporations – like Google, Craigslist, the Wikimedia Foundation, Mozilla, and others – have a right to free speech protected by the First Amendment.” Sheth concluded: “Imagine a world without free-speech rights for corporations. One thing is for sure: it would look much worse than today’s blackout.”
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of InfoTech & Telecom News.
“Combating Online Piracy while Protecting an Open and Innovative Internet,” Victoria Espinel, Aneesh Chopra, and Howard Schmidt January 14, 2012: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petition-tool/response/combating-online-piracy-while-protecting-open-and-innovative-internet