Prior to Wednesday, awareness and familiarity with the acronyms SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) or PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) was pretty low. Although there was chatter at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, until yesterday, the issues surrounding SOPA/PIPA were fairly unknown to the general public. Media coverage had been pretty limited.
What a difference a day makes.
A day where many people learned about these bills because they encountered a black bar over the Google logo and a link to the petition, or a notice on blacked out Wikipedia or Boing Boing or CraigsList or Cheezburger. Some reports say more than 7,000 sites went dark Wednesday in protest of SOPA, but I’m not sure anyone has a solid number. What’s more concrete, is that as of 11pm Wednesday evening, Google had almost 9,000 news stories indexed about SOPA/PIPA for the last 24 hour period.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) called Wednesday’s blackout a gimmick. They can call it what they want, but it not only brought the issue to the publics’ attention very rapidly, it also spurred people to take action. More than 4.5 million people signed their name to the Google petition on Wednesday. And according to protest organizers, over 300,000 people emailed or called lawmakers.
That’s not trivial.
And lawmakers reacted.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida renounced PIPA, which he had co-sponsored. Texas Senator John Cornyn, who leads the GOP’s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge colleagues to slow the bill down. And South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint announced his opposition on Twitter.
As the day went on, it gained momentum and more and more lawmakers renounced their support, inncluding Mark Kirk of Illinois, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Orrin Hatch of Utah, John Boozman of Arkansas and Chuck Grassley of Iowa as well as Ben Quayle of Arizona. Lee Terry, who had co-sponsored SOPA, announced Tuesday he would pull his name off as co-sponsor. Nebraska’s Jeff Fortenberry and Mike Johanns told the Journal Star on Wednesday they won’t support the bill. In all, at least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.
Nothing like this has happened before. If you think about it, many sites that went dark lost a lot of money today. So powerful was the priority to fight SOPA/PIPA that it trumped the business mission of these sites.
But it’s important to clarify that opposition was to the specific bills SOPA/PIPA and worrisome provisions within them, not to the concept that online piracy is a problem that must be addressed. Wrong solutions.
In fact, there’s another bill out there — the Senate’s Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) which aims for middle ground by putting enforcement in the hands of the International Trade Commission, a quasi-government agency that already investigates counterfeit imports and trade-secret violations.
The blackout is now history, but the issues, discussions and work to be done to solve the problem are far from over.