Ladies and gentleman, bid farewell to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. They’re both being tabled and sent to legislative limbo. How did that happen when just a few days ago it seemed like debates about the bills only existed online?
First, some background: SOPA and PIPA were both billed as anti-piracy bills, designed to combat digital copyright theft. Detractors argued that the twin pieces of legislation would do more harm than good, destabilizing the Internet and stifling online freedom of speech.
By the mid-November, the legislation was opposed by such tech heavyweights as AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga. Fast forward to last week when things really got interesting:
Friday, Jan. 13: SOPA and PIPA Authors Remove DNS Provisions
On lucky Friday the 13th, support for SOPA and PIPA seemed as sturdy as ever. A few days earlier, SOPA’s author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Texas) said that fears of the bill were “unfounded.” Media Matters reported that the bills had been mentioned during prime-time evening news broadcasts only once, suggesting that most people just weren’t talking (or hearing) about the anti-piracy bills.
For the anti-SOPA crowd, the threat was real and the challenge intense. But there were a few weak spots in the armor. Even if most Americans weren’t in the know about SOPA and PIPA, the Internet community certainly was. The Go Daddy boycott and anti-SOPA activity on Reddit started to catch the public’s attention.
On Friday, the first pieces of the SOPA and PIPA wall began tumbling down. The authors of both bills, Smith for SOPA and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) for PIPA removed the Domain Name System (DNS) blocking provisions of their legislation.
DNS acts as a sort of “phone book” for the Internet. When you type an address into your browser’s address bar, DNS translates that address from a website name (like http://www.google.com) to an IP address (like 192.168.2.1), which your computer then uses to find the server you’re looking for.
Many critics of SOPA and PIPA claimed that interfering with DNS would destabilize and slow down the Internet while failing to prevent online piracy. After all you could always type 192.168.2.1 into an address bar to bypass the blockade.
The removal of the DNS provisions was a small victory for SOPA detractors. It was the first indication that Congress was listening to the bill’s critics.
Monday, Jan. 16: The White House Takes a Stand
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and called for continued debate on PIPA. However, Congress was still on its winter break so the debate was put on hold.
The White House was not on break and on Monday, and it took an official position by responding to an online petition posted on We the People. In a blog post, the White House said online piracy was a real problem but that SOPA and PIPA were too imprecise and too dangerous to American cybersecurity.
It wasn’t a complete victory for SOPA and PIPA opponent, but it was another headache for its supporters. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a major supporter for the bills, responded with a press release:
“While we agree with the White House that protection against online piracy is vital, that protection must be meaningful to protect the people who have been and will continue to be victimized if legislation is not enacted.”
Tuesday, Jan. 17: Wikipedia Announces Blackout, Google Plans to Censor Logo
On Tuesday, the anti-SOPA movement gained some serious steam.
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, announced that Wikipedia English (which gets 25 million visitors every day) would be going dark on Jan. 18, leaving only information about SOPA/PIPA and methods to contact elected officials. And Google decided they would be using their front page to protest the bill on the same day.
They would be joining a long list of sites who promised blackouts or changes on Jan. 18. Tuesday was shaping up to become the eve of “the day the Internet went dark,” the calm before the digital storm.
SOPA’s author called Wikipedia’s blackout a “publicity stunt” that did a “disservice” to its users. He announced a new markup session for February, when the bill would be opened up for debate in the House Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, Hollywood reassured everyone that DNS blocking was “off the table.”
Wednesday, Jan. 18: The Day The Internet Went Dark
On Wednesday, millions of people awoke to an Internet which just wasn’t quite right.
Wikipedia visitors were greeted with blacked out screens and calls to actions for fighting SOPA and PIPA. Visitors were encouraged to learn about the bills and call their elected officials to voice their opinion about the legislation. By the end of the blackout, Wikipedia actually saw above-average traffic as people flocked to the site to see what all the commotion was about.
Googlers could still use the site normally, but the company’s logo was “censored” with black bars. The company launched an anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA public petition, which went viral and gained more than 7 million signatures in one day.
Reddit was dark for 12 hours but, like Wikipedia, users could access information about SOPA and PIPA and find out how to contact their elected officials.
On Facebook, users could read all about SOPA and PIPA on a tab featured on the site’s politics portal. Mark Zuckerberg took the opportunity to break his silence on the bills and publicly decried the legislation.
During “The Day the Internet Went Dark,” almost all of the online conversation around the bills was in opposition to them. According to Twitter, people tweeted about SOPA a total of 2.4 million times throughout the day.
In the offline world, approximately as many as thousand people took to the streets of New York City to protest the bills.
But did the coordinated blackout have any impact?
Congressional websites were flooded by people looking to contact their representatives. By the day’s end, PIPA and SOPA’s co-sponsors were beginning to abandon ship, while approximately 30 elected officials who were previously on the fence took the opportunity to announce their opposition to the bills.
Thursday, Jan. 19: SOPA and PIPA Enter the Mainstream
Did the Internet blackout change minds? Thursday night, we had our answer. During the CNN Southern Republican national debate, every Republican presidential candidate took a stance against the bills. When SOPA and PIPA were mentioned during the debate, it was an indication that the issue had gone mainstream.
Thursday also saw an Anonymous attack on several pro-SOPA organizations. There was no word from Congress on the status of either bill. That would come on Friday morning.
Friday, Jan. 20: Congress Tables SOPA and PIPA
If Wednesday was the day that the Internet spoke, then Friday is the day that Congress listened.
With those decisions, both bills were cast into Congressional purgatory. Could they be resurrected? Perhaps. But for now we can say “adieu.”
SOPA and PIPA are off the table, but is there any one event or day that turned the tables? Was Wednesday’s Internet blackout the true victor? Let us know in the comments below.
- Dropping Support for PIPA and SOPA (netsecurityit.wordpress.com)
- The Web Wins: SOPA & PIPA Now Dead in the Water (omgubuntu.co.uk)
- SOPA is dead: Smith pulls bill (mashable.com)
- The week the web changed Washington (radar.oreilly.com)