Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act

By Nancy Scola
December 28, 2011

Now that Congress has hit pause on its controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and nearly every argument about the merits and failings of the piece of copyright legislation has been made, it’s a good time to ask: what, in 2012, will it take to actually stop a bill like this?

Because despite the delay, the situation still isn’t looking so hot for those looking to bring down SOPA. Amendments to tone down the bill’s more disliked points have been routinely defeated in the House Judiciary Committee by numbers sufficient to pass the bill to the full House floor.

But, at this point in the process, numbers aren’t everything. In the wake of the Arab Spring, talk of censoring technology hits the ears differently. More important is that in SOPA’s short two-month life, opposition to it has catalyzed online and off. But to succeed, its opponents will have to both boost the volume of their public alarm and convince Congress that, in an Internet-soaked 2012, questioning SOPA needn’t be politically fatal.

Washington isn’t the land of Luddites it once was. Members of Congress, of course, love their smartphones; Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are political staples. (Twitter says just over 85 percent of representatives in each chamber are on the service.) But the challenge for SOPA’s opponents has been to demonstrate that the power and joys of Facebook and, say, SOPA’s questionable domain-name filtering policy are two parts of the same webby whole.

We’re seeing that understanding catalyze amazingly quickly—at least among web users. Starting with a small band of early objectors, resistance to SOPA has been spreading out, gathering steam, and popping up in all sorts of places. There’s been a tsunami of Twitter traffic against the bill, much of it tagged with the #SOPA hashtag. That chatter has driven blog posts, given journalists fodder, and provided constant commentary on Congress’s often convoluted and confusing proceedings.

And, notably, the bill has prodded the entrepreneurs who run some of the Internet’s best-known sites into creative acts of protest. The blogging site Tumblr mock-censored itself. The file-sharing site Scribd posted a SOPA button that, when clicked, disappeared documents. Wikipedia is considering a temporary block on access to its millions of entries. Beyond that, heaps of calls have been made to Congress, engineers have written letters, and SOPA-doubting editorials have been penned by such newspapers as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

(TV coverage, meanwhile, has been hard to come by. For what it’s worth, Comcast and Viacom support the bill.)

As high-tech as much of that activity has been, it has, in the aggregate, been an act of good ol’ consciousness-raising. The more the argument is advanced, the more opponents are convinced politicians will realize that putting websites on such shaky footing is simply something that American lawmakers just don’t do.

To that end, the current congressional break comes at an opportune time. Many members of Congress are back in their home districts, engaging with constituents. Demand Progress, an advocacy group that is rallying against SOPA, says that it is planning drop-ins at town halls. Congressional watchers describe this break as the perfect time for members of Congress to reflect upon the wisdom of one of the least popular entities in American life – Congress’s approval rating is as low as 11 percent at last check – tampering with the Internet, one of the few things in the U.S. that seems to be working pretty well at the moment.

But let’s put aside the house calls and get back to the House – and the rest of the Washington establishment. There’s another, more rudimentary political strategy that, for SOPA’s opponents, is also showing promise.

At work in the capital is an effort to first draw a line in the sand on the Internet and then push Washington’s big players to one side or another. SOPA opponents’ flagship project: convincing Google to follow Yahoo’s lead and leave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the giant business lobby that has thrown its considerable weight behind SOPA. To that end, activists recently delivered a giant Gmail envelope to Google’s Washington offices, containing signatures on an online petition asking it to leave the organization. Google Inc. is but a baby in Washington – the MPAA has 83 years on it – and its solo lobbying efforts have been occasionally clumsy. But the company is reportedly beginning to wonder whether its interests are well-aligned with those of the business lobby that it reflexively joined upon arrival in DC.

And in that vein, earlier this month came one particularly troubling recent sign for the Chamber. Prompted by the SOPA fight, scores of entrepreneurs and company founders like Sergey Brin of Google, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Pierre Omidyar of eBay, and Chad Hurley of YouTube, formed Engine Advocacy, “a group of small businesses in the technology sector working together to think about how best to tackle the common issues we all face.” It’s a small effort – a scrappy start-up in the lobbying world, but it reads like a challenge to the Chamber’s free-market-at-all-costs dogma. And one can picture the U.S. Chamber of Commerce having a good hard think about whether it’s okay with “commerce” not including major parts of the Internet economy from here on out.

The ultimate goal of that political maneuvering: to convince Washington lawmakers that there’s support – and, to put it more crassly, money – in siding with the Internet. (At the moment, pro-SOPA contributions to Judiciary Committee members outweigh anti-SOPA ones some 4-to-1, according to the watchdog group Maplight.)

All that said, the somewhat dreary truth is that once bills like SOPA are set in motion, they have a momentum all their own. Even if SOPA’s backers in Congress are having buyer’s remorse, they may well be reluctant to disappoint Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman who is shepherding the bill through the House. Those familiar with the House’s inner-workings say Smith doesn’t like to feel bullied. And even if the MPAA has less power in the full House than in the Judiciary Committee, the Chamber of Commerce is still a force with which to be reckoned in Congress.

In the end, SOPA’s opponents’ path to success might be to peel off individual members with targeted arguments. They might appeal to the old dogs on the argument that the bill has been rushed through without proper consultation with technical experts. For the conservative wing, there’s the notion that it equips the Justice Department with barely-fettered new powers over the Internet. For the young guns, it might be, “Hey, don’t you really like the Internet the way that it is?” If SOPA becomes sufficiently distasteful, there’s a chance that Speaker Boehner and the House’s Republican leadership will opt to not bother bringing it to the floor.

And the fact is that if SOPA dies, its successor bill – and there will be a successor bill, there’s always a successor bill – will find itself dropped into a changed political world.

That world has proven capable of reconfiguring itself at Internet speed. And that’s a reality with which those who want to control the Internet from here on out will have to contend.

PHOTO: Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt speaks during the Freedom internet conference in the Hague December 8, 2011. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

14 comments

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Business as usual for our politians, laws for sale. Money is speech and corporations are people. We’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Is no one else embarrassed by the state of our government?

Posted by congressforsale | Report as abusive

@congressforsale

Why should the upstanding, honorable citizens of this fine country concern themselves with such petty nonsense regarding the freedom of information when there are worries of far greater proportion to tackle? I speak, of course, on the newly released Air Jordans.

Posted by bitbyt | Report as abusive

Would it be too glib to suggest that lobbying requires no more and no less than the skills needed for any other kind of negotiation? To wit, seeing what the other guy wants and knowing how to give him most of it. Would it be too glib to further suggest that these are skills which nerds are famous for lacking?

Most of the “freedom” lobby have spent the past twenty five years loudly proclaiming that the sky is falling. This is the way neither to win friends nor to influence people. Especially when one considers that they have been wrong for twenty five years straight, and that the sky is still there, where it always was.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” of which Lincoln so eloquently spoke on that November day in 1863, has indeed perished, replaced instead by government of, by and for corporations (which, after all, are people) and the very wealthiest — who are able to purchase the favors of the whores in Congress.

Posted by AJNorth | Report as abusive

Just look at how many supporters are from the democratic party!
Remember YOU have a BIG VOICE at the ballot box!
Primaries begin in January. Keep in mind
that a lot of that million dollars that Obama and gang
have for their re-election campaign is coming from
pushers of this internet control idea and these pushers
will demand results from their contributions.

And remember, too, that Homeland Security says this whole idea is not compatable with their plans on
getting encryption wide-spread…the real protection
for us all.

H.R.3261
Latest Title: Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)
Sponsor: Rep Smith, Lamar [TX-21] (introduced 10/26/2011) Cosponsors (31)
Related Bills:S.968, S.1228
Latest Major Action: 12/16/2011 House committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Committee Consideration and Mark-up Session Held.

Rep Amodei, Mark E. [NV-2] – 11/3/2011
Rep Baca, Joe [CA-43] – 12/7/2011
Rep Barrow, John [GA-12] – 11/14/2011
Rep Bass, Karen [CA-33] – 11/3/2011
Rep Berman, Howard L. [CA-28] – 10/26/2011
Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] – 10/26/2011
Rep Bono Mack, Mary [CA-45] – 10/26/2011
Rep Carter, John R. [TX-31] – 11/3/2011
Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] – 10/26/2011
Rep Chu, Judy [CA-32] – 11/30/2011
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] – 10/26/2011
Rep Cooper, Jim [TN-5] – 12/12/2011
Rep Deutch, Theodore E. [FL-19] – 10/26/2011
Rep Gallegly, Elton [CA-24] – 10/26/2011
Rep Goodlatte, Bob [VA-6] – 10/26/2011
Rep Griffin, Tim [AR-2] – 10/26/2011
Rep Holden, Tim [PA-17] – 11/30/2011
Rep King, Peter T. [NY-3] – 11/3/2011
Rep Larson, John B. [CT-1] – 11/30/2011
Rep Lujan, Ben Ray [NM-3] – 11/14/2011
Rep Marino, Tom [PA-10] – 11/3/2011
Rep Nunnelee, Alan [MS-1] – 11/3/2011
Rep Owens, William L. [NY-23] – 11/14/2011
Rep Quayle, Benjamin [AZ-3] – 12/13/2011
Rep Ross, Dennis [FL-12] – 10/26/2011
Rep Scalise, Steve [LA-1] – 11/14/2011
Rep Schiff, Adam B. [CA-29] – 10/26/2011
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27] – 12/7/2011
Rep Terry, Lee [NE-2] – 10/26/2011
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-20] – 11/3/2011
Rep Watt, Melvin L. [NC-12] – 11/3/2011
______________
S.968
Latest Title: Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011
Sponsor: Sen Leahy, Patrick J. [VT] (introduced 5/12/2011) Cosponsors (40)
Related Bills:H.R.3261
Latest Major Action: 12/17/2011 Senate floor actions. Status: Cloture motion on the motion to proceed to the bill presented in Senate. (Jan 24, 2012)
Senate Reports: 112-39

Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN] – 5/25/2011
Sen Ayotte, Kelly [NH] – 6/27/2011
Sen Bennet, Michael F. [CO] – 7/25/2011
Sen Bingaman, Jeff [NM] – 10/19/2011
Sen Blumenthal, Richard [CT] – 5/12/2011
Sen Blunt, Roy [MO] – 5/23/2011
Sen Boozman, John [AR] – 6/15/2011
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA] – 12/12/2011
Sen Brown, Sherrod [OH] – 10/20/2011
Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD] – 7/13/2011
Sen Casey, Robert P., Jr. [PA] – 9/7/2011
Sen Chambliss, Saxby [GA] – 11/2/2011
Sen Cochran, Thad [MS] – 6/23/2011
Sen Coons, Christopher A. [DE] – 5/12/2011
Sen Corker, Bob [TN] – 6/9/2011
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL] – 6/30/2011
Sen Enzi, Michael B. [WY] – 9/7/2011
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA] – 5/12/2011
Sen Franken, Al [MN] – 5/12/2011
Sen Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [NY] – 5/26/2011
Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC] – 5/12/2011
Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA] – 5/12/2011
Sen Hagan, Kay [NC] – 7/5/2011
Sen Hatch, Orrin G. [UT] – 5/12/2011
Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA] – 11/2/2011
Sen Johnson, Tim [SD] – 10/3/2011
Sen Klobuchar, Amy [MN] – 5/12/2011
Sen Kohl, Herb [WI] – 5/12/2011
Sen Landrieu, Mary L. [LA] – 10/17/2011
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT] – 7/7/2011
Sen McCain, John [AZ] – 7/26/2011
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ] – 10/31/2011
Sen Nelson, Bill [FL] – 9/23/2011
Sen Risch, James E. [ID] – 11/7/2011
Sen Rubio, Marco [FL] – 5/26/2011
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY] – 5/12/2011
Sen Shaheen, Jeanne [NH] – 6/30/2011
Sen Udall, Tom [NM] – 7/7/2011
Sen Vitter, David [LA] – 11/7/2011
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI] – 5/12/2011
Sen Moran, Jerry [KS] – 6/23/2011(withdrawn – 6/27/2011)
___________________
http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-573391 10-281/sopa-foes-ready-alternative-plan- no-web-blocking/?tag=mncol;txt

Article (date Dec 8) on SOPA alternative called Open Act that has no web-blocking.

Posted by limapie | Report as abusive

[...] Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act [...]

The text of the act doesn’t really contain much new material. It’s mostly a restatement of commitments to the US Code. There are plenty of criminal cases on record. Websites can be taken down for mere unauthorized reproduction or display in a manner that ‘unreasonably prejudices the legitimate interests’ of the owners. Civil remedies are already available too. Sites like Filestube, Mediafire, Megavideo, Megaupload, Putlocker, etc. and the torrent sites plainly operate for profit even when they don’t charge for use, and some do. It’s all there already. There shouldn’t be such new reaction to the old material.

Posted by adamt78 | Report as abusive

[...] Successful Boycott …ForbesDumping Go Daddy? Rivals offer domain transfer day dealsCBS NewsReuters Blogs (blog) -PCWorld -Globe and Mailall 285 news articles » [...]

[...] Successful Boycott …ForbesDumping Go Daddy? Rivals offer domain transfer day dealsCBS NewsReuters Blogs (blog) -PCWorld -Globe and Mailall 285 news articles » [...]

[...] Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act [...]

Don’t be concerned. The Government is your friend. Their intentions are honerable. They’re here to protect you. Go back to sleep. All is well.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

545 People run this country:
1 President
1 Vice president (not included, only votes in a tie)
100 Senators
435 Representatives
5 Delegates (not included, cannot vote)
1 Resident Commissioner (not included, cannot vote)
9 supreme court members

Term Limits for congress and the supreme court,
campaign finance reform for all public offices or nothing will ever change.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

The key assumption this article makes is that SOPA is bad. But how? That is not made clear.

I can tell you how SOPA is good. It would help protect the right of creative professionals to earn a living from their work. These creative professionals include the independent musicians, authors, and software creators who live among us. Their work is stolen on a massive scale by people who believe they have a right to take whatever they want, without paying for it. Try that in Wal-Mart – stealing a made-in-China stereo for example – and you’ll be taken away in handcuffs.

The excuses offered by intellectual property thieves are just lies. They claim that only rich entertainment executives are hurt by intellectual property theft. But actually, it is the creative professionals who rely on income from their work to pay their monthly bills who are hurt the most. The thieves also claim that the entertainment industry needs a new business model, but that work has already been done by the like of iTunes and Flickr. And the thieves say they must have unrestricted freedom, but freedom comes with responsibility, which the thieves have grossly abused.

Shutting down a few pirate web sites will not harm anybody, and it will not prevent any future Arab Springs.

Now that China and other emerging nations manufacture most of the tangible goods in the world, intellectual property rights are crucial for our economy. China manipulates it’s currency exchange rate, keeping it artificially low to ensure dominance of world manufacturing. They do so with impunity, because a low Yuan allows enormous profits for the huge corporations that manufacture in China. No doubt, these mega corporations lobby Washington to prevent having China labeled a currency manipulator. And China will continue to blackmail the rest of the world with their bad boy puppet, North Korea.

Ironically, China censors the internet, and they do not respect intellectual property. But they will soon dominate the world, economically and politically. And they are not a democracy.

Rather than jump on the bandwagon and mindlessly oppose SOPA, let’s keep in mind how SOPA can protect what precious little is left of our economy, as China gradually succeeds in dominating the world. And let’s not forget the rights of the skilled professionals among us who create the music, books, and software that we all enjoy. They work very hard, and have a right to earn a living from their creative work.

Posted by DifferentOne | Report as abusive

So, why is SOPA bad?
#1
The representative (Smith) was bought. The top donors
to his campaign were TV, movie, and music industry people.
Smith didn’t consider the people HE represented in Texas.
He only is thinking about the people who paid him.
So, SoPA is bad ’cause it only is legislation that a minority–not a majority want. The whole legislation doesn’t follow democratic principles…..majority rule,
govenment by representation.

#2
SOPA doesn’t solve the problem of off-shore, rogue web sites.
The people who are pirating don’t live in the U.S. where U.S. laws work.

#3
SOPA is bad because “it interacts with the domain name system and a set of security improvements to it known as DNSSEC.

The idea of DNSSEC is to promote end-to-end encryption of domain names, meaning there’s no break in the chain between, say, Wellsfargo.com and its customer. Requiring Internet providers to redirect allegedly piratical domain names to, say, the FBI’s servers isn’t compatible with DNSSEC.

Rep. Dan Lungren, who heads the Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity, has said that an “unintended consequence” of SOPA would be to “undercut” the effort his panel has been making to promote DNSSEC.”
http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-573290 01-281/how-sopa-would-affect-you-faq/?ta g=mncol;posts

Even the Senate cousin of SOPA (called Protect IP ACT)
would (quote same article above) [“prepared by five Internet researchers this spring”}—–
be “incompatible” with DNSSEC”, would harm “innocent Web sites (who)
“will be swept in as ‘collateral damage,’” and
would allow the bypass of the blacklist (any way)”by using the numeric Internet address of a Web site.”

In other words—-SOPA and Protect IP Act DON’T WORK for what it is intended.
These proposals only mess the internet up for the “good guys”
who ARE law abiding.

#4
And besides do you want the U.S. Attorney General to be SUPREME RULER OF
the INTERNET?

How communistic is that????????

I can’t believe ANYONE questions WHY SOPA is bad? DUH

Posted by limapie | Report as abusive

Further to my previous post, if you think SOPA is bad, then make the effort to draft a better law yourself! The critics of intellectual property protection have never bothered to do that. This reveals their bias: They want to continue enjoying the fruits of other people’s labor with out paying a penny.

If you are concerned about your personal freedom, then be concerned about China. While giant corporations, with no national loyalty, lobby our politicians to support China’s unfair trade practices, and while greedy thieves undermine our economy by stealing intellectual property, China continues rising to world dominance. Eventually, they will buy control of our natural resources – and crucially – our media. And they are not a democracy.

If you play chess, then you know what it means when your opponent says “check mate”. It means you lose. And it often comes as a surprise. So will our loss of freedom, when one fine morning we wake up to the realization that China is now in charge. Check mate. What a surprise! And all the while, the “freedom advocates” among us were bickering and complaining about how we would lose our freedom if steps were taken to protect our strongest assets: intellectual property.

Remember, China knows what imperialism is. The west taught them, and as our victims they learned well. Now our own future may hold many hard lessons for us, taught by China.

Make no mistake, China’s success as an equal trading partner should be encouraged. But the playing field must be level.

And we must encourage the development of our intellectual property industries, by protecting the right of creative professionals to earn a living from their work. This is one crucial measure we can take now to protect our freedom, and the freedom of our children and grandchildren.

Posted by DifferentOne | Report as abusive

[...] the House Judiciary Committee hit the pause button on the disastrous legislation. Despite this, as Nancy Scola details, the fight is far from over and SOPA is still favored to [...]

[...] the House Judiciary Committee hit the pause button on the disastrous legislation. Despite this, as Nancy Scola details, the fight is far from over and SOPA is still favored to pass.One major tactic that might truly [...]

@DifferentOne – I thought we already had the quintessential IP protection law? If the DMCA worked as advertised, IP shills such as yourself wouldn’t be screaming for yet more ineffective legislation.

And please! Copyright infringement is NOT theft (nor are infringers “pirates”; but that’s another debate), as case law has been quite clear. An act of infringement deprives the owner neither of ownership nor of the ability to make money; it at most deprives the owner of a single sale, not the right or ability to sell. (Heck, in most cases, the owner hasn’t lost even that much, as most downloaders wouldn’t have bought the stuff anyway.)and in most cases not even that, as, most mp3 downloaders wouldn’t have bought the stuff anyway. So at that point what, exactly, has the owner lost?).

Calling infringement “theft” may make you feel better about your moral snit, but it does nothing to clarify the debate.

The US already has all the laws it needs to protect IP owners’ rights. What is needed is better enforcement, not more laws. And if current law is unenforceable, and if the DMCA isn’t doing it’s job, in what alternate universe do you think SOPA will fare any better?

Yes, I support the rights of copyright holders, and I do not condone copyright infringement. Tell us, do you support the rights of consumers?

Posted by Nathanael | Report as abusive

In reply, Nathanael, I am not a shill. I am a self-employed individual who spent many years working as a creative professional in the music industry. I invested considerable sums of money to create musical recordings over the years, and the only compensation I receive from that is profits from CD sales, iTunes sales, and performance royalties. These sums are meager, but they are all I get, so please do not trivialize them.

You also claim that copyright infringement is inconsequential because it does not deprive me of ownership of my music tracks. But infringement does deprive me of the income I need to live. It deprives me of the opportunity to obtain a fair return on the financial investment I made to create the tracks. And while loss of a single sale is financially insignificant, the cumulative effect of thousands of lost sales has in fact been financially devastating for myself and my family.

Furthermore, you claim that people who download without paying would never actually purchase a track legitimately, even if they could not download it illegally. This is not true. In recent years, more than a few middle-class, middle-aged customers have casually mentioned to me that their grandchildren help them download music tracks for free. These customers clearly have the financial means to purchase the music legitimately, and they are committed fans. If their grandchildren had not misled them, then they would clearly have purchased the CDs or tracks legally. Other independent recording artists have told me that they have had the same experience with their own customers. They have also agreed with me that music sales have dropped so sharply in the past decade that it is hardly worth making any more new recordings.

You also claim that copyright infringement is not theft. However, my income is stolen by copyright infringers, and that is definitely theft. If your paycheck were stolen, you would call that theft too.

And finally, you ask whether I support the rights of consumers. As a consumer myself, I believe I have a right to purchase goods and services on whatever lawful terms are agreed to by the seller and myself. I also have a right to purchase the right to use intellectual property on whatever lawful terms are mutually agreed to by myself and the seller.

However, I do not have a right to unilaterally set terms that are unacceptable to the seller of goods and services, or the licensor of intellectual property. And I do not have a right to unilaterally set a price of zero for any goods, services, or intellectual property. Nor does any consumer. As I said before, if I unilaterally determine that Wal-mart should sell a stereo for a price of $0 and then walk out with it, I will be arrested and jailed for shop lifting. The same principle should apply for intellectual property.

The proposed SOPA law makes sense, because it would help protect the right of creative professionals to earn a living from their work. It will help isolate and shut down pirate web sites, and that will hurt nobody but the pirates. We should all be in favor of SOPA because it will help support the health of our intellectual property industries, which are now more than ever so crucial for our economy.

Posted by DifferentOne | Report as abusive

[...] Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act [...]

Ronald Reagan engineered operation Plagiarized Indigantion to get rid of people hacking the Department of Defense and pentagon and he did a great job of it, ten years after his death it still serves globally.

Posted by MalCapa | Report as abusive

[...] Nancy Scola from reuters.com state “There’s been a tsunami of Twitter traffic against the bill, much of it tagged with the #SOPA hashtag.” [...]

[...] Reuters asks how yet another round of unpopular government censorships could affect what many now understand as a historically-low approval rating for U.S. lawmakers. [...]

[...] say the rumors, though as of yet none have made a statement to confirm this. Yahoo! in particular chose to leave the United States Chamber of Commerce (a major supporter of the bill) with opponents of bill [...]