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The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act have been indefinitely shelved. This surprising turn of events comes barely a week after the general public were made aware of the SOPA and PIPA bills. How is it possible that such a major bill can be shelved a mere week after it has become public knowledge? Is this proof of the true power of the Internet?
For anyone who has missed the basic points, some background details: PIPA and SOPA are both anti-piracy bills, constructed to oppose digital copyright theft. Critics disputed that the twin pieces of legislation would be more harmful than advantageous, threatening the current degree of online freedom of speech.
By the middle of November, PIPA and SOPA were opposed by tech heavyweights Twitter, Facebook, eBay, LinkedIn, Google and Yahoo among others. However things really started to heat up on Friday the thirteenth of January 2012.
On Friday the 13th, backing for PIPA and SOPA seemed as strong as ever. A few days prior to this, the author of the SOPA bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Texas) stated that fears of the bill were “unfounded.” Media Matters declared that the bills had been commented on during prime-time evening news only once, giving the impression that most people just weren’t talking about the new anti-piracy bills.
For the anti-SOPA followers, there was a genuine threat and a challenge to be overcome. Fortunately for them, there were a few chinks in the armor. The reality was that most people were not aware of the details, or in some cases the existence, of the SOPA and PIPA bills, however, the online community most definitely was. Go Daddy’s very public boycott and the anti-SOPA movement on Reddit started to raise public awareness.
On Friday, the first cracks in the PIPA and SOPA wall began to appear. Both Smith, author of SOPA and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) author of PIPA removed the Domain Name System (DNS) blocking provisions of their legislation.
DNS is a sort of “phone book” for the Internet. When a user types an address into their browser’s address bar, DNS then translates that address from a website name (like www.twitter.com) to an IP address (like 192.168.2.1), which the computer then uses to find the server they are looking for.
Most people opposing PIPA and SOPA maintained that changing DNS methods would slow down the Internet but fail to prevent online piracy. The removal of the DNS provisions was a seemingly small victory for SOPA opposers however it was a critical point as it was the first sign that Congress was listening to the bill’s critics.
Over the weekend, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and asked for more debate on PIPA. Unfortunately, Congress was still on its winter break so the debate was put on hold.
The White House, however, was not on break and on Monday they shared their official position by responding to an online petition posted on We the People. In a blog post, the White House stated that they realize that online piracy is a real problem but that PIPA and SOPA were too imprecise and too dangerous to American cybersecurity.
It wasn’t a complete victory for SOPA and PIPA opposition, but it was another setback for its supporters. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a huge supporter for the bills, countered 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.”
On Tuesday, the campaign in opposition of SOPA gained some serious momentum.
Co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales announced that Wikipedia English (which receives around 25 million visitors daily) would be going dark on the eighteenth of January, with only information about SOPA and PIPA and ways to contact elected officials remaining. Google determined that they would use their front page to protest the bill on the same day.
They would be joined by a whole host of other sites who made a pact to blackout or change on the eighteenth of January in protest. Tuesday was starting to evolve into the eve of “the day the Internet went dark,” the calm before the digital storm.
Rep. Lamar Smithlabelled Wikipedia’s blackout a “publicity stunt” that did a “disservice” to its users. He announced that in February the bill would be opened up for debate in the House Judiciary Committee. During this time, Hollywood bolstered the hopes of the Internet community by reassuring everyone that DNS blocking was “off the table.”
On Wednesday Wikipedia visitors were greeted with black screens and calls to action for combating PIPA and SOPA. Visitors were encouraged to research the bills and call their elected officials to oppose the legislation. By the end of Wednesday, Wikipedia saw above-average traffic as people swarmed to the site to see what all the pandemonium was about.
Googlers could still use the site but the Google Doodle was “censored” with black bars. Google launched an anti-PIPA and anti-SOPA petition, which went viral and received in excess of 7 million signatures in one day.
Reddit was also dark for 12 hours but, as with Wikipedia, users could still gain information about PIPA and SOPA and find information about how to contact their elected officials. Mark Zuckerberg took the opportunity on Facebook to break his silence on the bills and publicly criticized the legislation. Users could also read all about PIPA and SOPA on a tab featured on the site’s politics portal.
During “The Day the Internet Went Dark,” most of the online conversation around the bills was opposing them. According to Twitter, SOPA was tweeted about a total of 2.4 million times throughout the day. Around a thousand people took to the streets of New York City to protest the bills.
Congressional websites were overrun by people trying to contact their representatives. By the end of the day, SOPA and PIPA’s co-sponsors were starting to flee the scene, while around 30 elected officials who had been on the fence prior to the blackouts used this as an opportunity to belatedly condemn the bills.
On Thursday night, during the CNN Southern Republican national debate, all Republican presidential candidates stood against the bills. When PIPA and SOPA were discussed during the debate, it was seen as proof that the issue had become common knowledge.
Thursday also saw an anonymous attack on numerous pro-SOPA organizations. Congress had so far made no further comment on the status of either bill.
On Friday morning, Reid canceled a PIPA vote that would have moved the bill forward in the Senate. Within hours, Smith announced he was pulling his bill as well. With those decisions, both bills were shelved indefinitely. Perhaps in time this will change but for now at least Internet users do not have to worry about the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect IP Act as they are sat somewhere going dusty.