An Update on SOPA, PIPA, and Last Week's Petitions

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Last Wednesday (January 18), Wikipedia and other sites went dark in a protest of pending legislation before the US Congress. Now that the dust has settled, here are some details of what happened.

Let the Backpedaling Begin

On Friday (January 20) Lamar Smith, chief SOPA sponsor, pulled the bill from consideration. At roughly the same time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a scheduled vote on PIPA in the Senate. Of the original 13 co-sponsors of the two bills, 7 backed out, saying they couldn't support the bills in their current form.

Lots of people online celebrated all this news by saying "SOPA is dead" and suggesting that PIPA is on life-support. This may or may not be true; many legislators are saying that they want to rewrite the bills and then pass some revised flavor of them (ahem, have y'all seen the OPEN Act? We've got your rewrite right here). This is either legislators trying to gracefully back away, or they're saying exactly what they mean -- which is that, with some tweaks, they might go ahead and pass SOPA/PIPA 2.0. Stay tuned.

Wikipedia's Efforts

The Wikimedia Foundation reported that more than 162 million people saw their blackout message, and 8 million viewed their page about contacting Congress. In a "Thank You" page, Wikipedians wrote:

More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress’s switchboards. You melted their servers. From all around the world your messages dominated social media and the news. Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open Internet. ...

For us, this is not about money. It’s about knowledge. As a community of authors, editors, photographers, and programmers, we invite everyone to share and build upon our work.

Our mission is to empower and engage people to document the sum of all human knowledge, and to make it available to all humanity, in perpetuity. We care passionately about the rights of authors, because we are authors.

They also warned in a Learn More page that the bills are not dead. They pointed to a TED Talk by Clay Shirky on "why SOPA is a bad idea":

In self-congratulatory news, I'm weirdly proud that my article from last week rapidly became the #1 result for the Google search "Why is Wikipedia Down?"

Google's Petition

On January 18, Google asked visitors to sign an anti-SOPA/PIPA petition, using the tagline End Piracy, Not Liberty. They received over 7 million signatures, out of 13 million visitors to the petition page.

Mozilla (Firefox)'s Message

Mozilla updated the default landing page in Firefox with a message about SOPA and censorship. They later reported reaching 40 million people, of whom 1.8 million visited the SOPA info page. From there, 360,000 emails to Congress were generated.

The "Quote" Controversy Du Jour

So MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) head Chris Dodd made some remarks on Fox News last week. He said, in part, "Those who count on quote Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. ... Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake." In a brief nerd note, I find it deliciously amusing that this quote includes the word 'quote' because Dodd never managed to close his quotation verbally, so we can't just put quotation marks around the word "Hollywood" when quoting him. Ahem, moving on. But you get the point -- this appears to be a threat from Dodd to stop providing those big fat Hollywood campaign contributions (primarily to Democrats), if legislators don't pass the legislation he wants.

Boom! Pow! Another online petition is born! (As I write this, 18,000 people have signed a petition asking that Dodd be investigated for "bribery.")

What's interesting about this "controversy" is that it's not news -- Hollywood has long been affiliated with Democrats. In an excellent write-up at Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee pointed out that Republicans have been very quick to disavow SOPA and PIPA, while Democrats' reactions have been more muted. (Indeed, all four Republican presidential candidates came out in opposition to the bills in Thursday's debate. While President Obama is also against the legislation, but you may notice that PIPA's Democratic co-sponsor Patrick Leahy is still firmly for the bill.) In general, SOPA and PIPA started out with broad bipartisan support; at this point, a ProPublica interactive allows you to browse supporters and opponents. By using the "Party" filters, you'll see 39 Democratic supporters and co-sponsors still in favor of the bills, but only 21 Republicans remaining.

Some Other Stuff that You Might Want to Read

The best source I've seen for news on SOPA, PIPA, and technology law in general is Ars Technica. The Ars team has been cranking out terrific coverage day after day -- it's worth a bookmark.

Tech fund Y Combinator wants to "Kill Hollywood" by providing money to disruptive entertainment industry startups.

Tim O'Reilly (of those famous computer books with animals on the front) wrote a Google+ article in which he questions the core assertion that piracy is causing actual economic harm. Singer Jonathan Coulton chimed in on his own blog, discussing the Megaupload shutdown...which, I should remind you, has little to do with SOPA, and might actually be good evidence that we don't need laws like SOPA to shut down online pirates, even overseas ones.

Andy Baio wrote Why SOPA and PIPA Must Die, describing how his own creative career has been hampered by copyright legislation, and suggesting we don't need yet more of it.

Julian Sanchez posted a longish read on Ars Technica entitled SOPA, Internet regulation, and the economics of piracy, running the numbers on how piracy works from an economic point of view. You should read it.

Stay tuned for further developments. If you haven't read my previous articles on this topic, check out Why is Wikipedia Down? and What’s Wrong With PROTECT IP and SOPA?

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January 23, 2012 - 6:57am
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