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.