Internet SOPA/PIPA Revolt: Don’t Declare Victory Yet

Protestors against SOPA and PIPA took to the streets in New York City Wednesday outside the offices of Senator Chuck Schumer (D). Photo: Richard Drew/AP

There’s a bit of a dancing-in-the-street mentality online Wednesday in response to a widespread internet revolt against anti-piracy legislation that many believe goes too far fighting online copyright and trademark infringement.

Thousands of sites, big and small, went dark or altered themselves to protest the Protect IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House.

But by no sense of the imagination are these bills scuttled, despite Senate websites reportedly buckling under the weight of constituents weighing in against the measure.

Sure, the worst part of the proposals — mandated DNS redirecting of websites deemed dedicated to infringing activity — appear to be history. But there’s still plenty to protest, as we spelled out in an earlier story Wednesday, including possible mandatory orders for the nation’s ISPs to build a version of the Chinese Great Firewall to prevent users from visiting sites such as The Pirate Bay.

Most important, amended proposals are likely to rear their ugly heads soon in response to White House criticism of the Domain Name System features of the bills.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) says he will bring an amended version of SOPA to the House Judiciary Committee sometime in “February.” And Senate action on an amended PIPA, either on the floor or before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is tentatively scheduled next week.

For the moment, however, those participating in what is believed to be the largest online backlash to proposed U.S. legislation should briefly pat themselves on the back.

Among other things, the revolt prompted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted in May to move the Protect IP Act to the Senate floor from the Judiciary Committee, to declare Wednesday that the measure “is not ready for prime time.” A handful of other lawmakers echoed the senior senator’s sentiment.

And Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) introduced a competing measure, with the support of more than a dozen lawmakers, that would open the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate intellectual-property infringement claims.

All the while, at least 4.5 million internet surfers signed a Google-sponsored petition against both measures Wednesday.

We won’t bore you with the details on what sites went dark or altered themselves. But we should point out that the protests have put the content industry, the main backers of the legislation, on the defensive.

The Motion Picture Association of America sent out a factsheet saying “Nothing in the Protect IP Act can reasonably be construed as promoting censorship.”

And the Recording Industry Association of America tweeted “Perish the thought” that students must do “original research” Wednesday because of Wikipedia’s self-inflicted 24-hour outage.

The best-case scenario? In this election year, the bills would become too polarizing and die.

But word to the wise, keep the anti-blacklisting celebrations short: PIPA and SOPA aren’t dead yet.