SOPA is dead, long live SOPA

By on January 27, 2012
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The battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.

January 18, 2012, will go down in history as a day when the Internet community managed to stop a piece of legislation from being enacted in the U.S. That seems to be the common view held after it seemed as SOPA was cancelled after the protests, which darkened and disabled websites around the world. Even right here on this site we could read, “SOPA is now officially dead.”

But is that really true?

As far as I can tell there is no guarantee that SOPA is dead, but chances are we won’t hear a lot about it for quite a while.

First, let’s just quickly look at what we’re talking about. SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, is a bill introduced to the U.S. Senate, and its equivalent in the House of Representatives is PIPA, or Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. Although they are legislation in different parts of the Congress, they are really aimed at accomplishing the same thing, namely to curtail online piracy and copyright infringement.

My understanding is that this gives government as well as companies the right to go after the distribution mechanisms of illegal distributing copyrighted material, like websites and Internet access providers, instead of the end users. So far, it’s been the end users, the people who download movies with BitTorrent, which the music industry has gone after and sued. With SOPA and PIPA, that would all change.

To protest SOPA and PIPA, Reddit.com announced it would shut down its site on January 18. Many other sites followed, including Wikipedia, and sites around the world went silent on that day. The day before the protests, the author of the SOPA bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, said he expected the work on SOPA to continue in February: “To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy.” He added, “Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.”

As it turns out, the online protests on January 18 had a measurable effect. The day after, the number of opponents in the U.S. Congress to the bill, increased to 101 from having been only 31 previously. It would seem that politicians do listen to voters after all.

Then on January 20, Chairman Smith seemed to back down: “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.” And he finished, “The House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

So does this mean that the January 18 protests have completely won over the proponents of SOPA and PIPA? Some say that SOPA and PIPA won’t come back in any way shape or form this year because it’s an election year. Politicians have too much to do with the Presidential race, to gain or retain seats in Congress, as well as local elections, to bother to keep on fighting for SOPA and PIPA, especially after this very public protest.

But as far as I can tell there’s no guarantee that the legislation won’t come back later, perhaps in a different guise.

My guess is that SOPA and PIPA will come back to the top of the agenda in U.S. politics at some point. The commercial interests driving them are far too powerful and rich that they would just leave it well enough alone. However, it won’t be under the names SOPA and PIPA. Those names are now tainted, and most Americans, indeed scores of people around the world, associate the acronyms with greedy corporations trying to get the government to write and implement legislation that will merely punish ordinary people.

The battle may have been won, but the war is far from over.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass.


About

I write and talk too much about tech. You can find my personal blog at Nystedt.org, my radio shows at dxbtech.com, and me on Twitter as mnystedt.

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