Representative Lamar Smith (R) of the 21st district of Texas introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, to the House of Representatives with bipartisan support on October 26, 2011. The idea of the bill was to protect online copyrighted work, but it also had the potential to stifle collaboration and innovation on the web- a driving force of U.S. research and development. Many organizations rose up on both sides of the bill, but the opposition was made up of a coalition of Internet big shots who were able to mobilize the Internet community to stop the bill in its tracks. SOPA, along with its Senate counterpart, PIPA (the Protect Intellectual Property Act) demonstrated the power of the Internet community and changed the way corporate and public voices are heard in Congress.
Initially, SOPA was met with broad bipartisan support. Supporters of the bill included the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry of America, pharmaceutical companies, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. These groups argued that ultimately, support of SOPA came down to the 19 million jobs created by the content industry that are threatened by the $100 billion the U.S. loses annually due to copyright infringement.
To further complicate the issue, grey areas exist over what constitutes as copyrighted material and fair use on the Internet, and the controversial wording of the bill drew strong opposition. Critics of SOPA argued that such a bill was an unconstitutional restriction on first amendment rights. Many of SOPA’s opponents such as Reddit, YouTube and Tumblr view the Internet as a community of collaborators who change and remix content in the name of innovation and creative expression. Opponents felt that SOPA threatened this community. In response, web giants mobilized a virtual army of Internet activists who came together to fight for the integrity of the web and protection of their first amendment rights.
Under the bill, anything from viral YouTube videos such as Sophia Grace and Rosie’s adorable rendition of Nikki Minaj’s Super Bass to the hilarious memes we have all come to know and love would be under attack, and the websites who host them could face potential U.S. blackout.
In protest of this alleged overreach of policy, web giants such as Google and Wikipedia in addition to the opponents mentioned above spoke out against the bill by blacking out their websites or posting anti-SOPA messages in prominent places on their pages. Many of these messages prompted their users to contact their representatives and encourage them to vote against the bill. This campaign was extremely successful as it brought awareness to a wide group of people over a resource that many of them depend on, and mobilized a large portion of the electorate to speak out about the legislation (O’Leary).
While the opponents of the bill were gathering a passionate coalition to strike down the bill, supporters of SOPA took a more traditional approach in gathering support by hiring expensive lobbyists and pitching to other interest groups who may or may not be able to bring in additional support or money toward the campaign.
SOPA opposition began to spread as masses of the electorate began to respond to the opposition campaign by flooding their representatives’ inboxes, voicemails, Facebook pages, and Twitter asking them to vote against the bill. Many representatives, including some of those who had once supported the bill, expressed their dissent through their Twitter or Facebook pages, while groups of SOPA supporters struggled to stay afloat.
The public and commercial response to SOPA and PIPA marked the transition of primary policy influencers from old commerce to new media, and demonstrated the power of the Internet as a force unlike anything the government has seen before. Old methods of policy making by non-governmental institutions such as lobbying and television ads are no longer the most effective way to mobilize an electorate, particularly when it comes to the Internet. New media and web giants are setting the standard of how businesses are able to project their voices into congress, and how to mobilize an electorate in support or opposition of a particular policy (O’Leary).
Brito, Jerry. “Congress’s Piracy Blacklist Plan: A Cure Worse than the Disease?”. Time. 7 Nov, 2011. Web. 4 April, 2013.
Kang, Cecilia. “House introduces Internet piracy bill”. The Washington Post. 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 1 April, 2013.
O’Leary, Daniel E. “Computer-Based Political Action: The Battle and Internet Blackout over PIPA”. Computer. The University of Southern California. July, 2012. Web. 29 March, 2013.
Smith, Lamar. “Statement from Chairman Smith on Senate Delay of Vote on PROTECT IP Act”. Committee on the Judiciary. 20 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 April, 2013.
Weisman, Jonathan. “In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old”. The Washington Post. 18 Jan. 2012. Web. 1 April, 2013.