By Blair Jackson
Last week, 115,00 websites went offline in a self-inflicted 24-hour blackout in protest of two pieces of U.S. legislation concerning online content piracy.
As a result of the blackouts, millions of U.S. citizens contacted their representatives, and in a groundbreaking feat of citizen protest, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) are now on the cutting room floor.
The protests, which also included support from internet powerhouses Google and Amazon, effectively engaged the public and took Washington by storm. The bills had reportedly been in the works since 2010 and were expected to pass with little resistance.
However, Wikipedia and other internet sites took issue with the extreme measures of the bills, some of which included a lack of due process that mirrors the censorship practices of China and Iran.
To pass the bills in their original forms would extend the possibility of abuse by censoring content behind the smokescreen of copyright infringement.
Wikipedia, one of the major proponents of the blackout campaign, explains its opposition to the bills as follows; “SOPA and PIPA are symptoms of a larger issue. They are misguided solutions to a misunderstood problem. In the U.S. and abroad, legislators and big media are embracing censorship and sacrificing civil liberties in their attacks on free knowledge and an open Internet.”
In a roundtable discussion, CNet writer Greg Sandoval described Hollywood’s shock at the failure of the legislation, saying, “This grassroots effort came from nowhere and pushed back all the support. I think the mood in Hollywood is one of shock, and I think absolutely dismay.”
Former Senator Chris Dodd, who is also the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, represents the industry that has the most to lose from the decision; and in recent days he has not been bashful about quid-pro-quo expectations that came with previous campaign donations from Hollywood.
“This industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake,” Dodd told Fox News. “Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”
Though corporations may offer the financial support that carries a campaign, voters still retain the power to elect pubic officials, and within days of the protests, representatives responded to public opinion by changing their stance on the bills. Senator John Boozman withdrew as a co-sponsor to the bill, and Mark Pryor is listed as opposing the bill as well.
Some supporters of the bills argue, like Dodd, that the internet industry has inappropriately used its platform to push an agenda, and some are pointing fingers at Google for influencing not only the masses but legislators as well.
However, if you look at Wikipedia, the forerunner of the blackouts, you’ll find a unique democratic information community that voted on the issue of protest, making a case that the movement was incited by citizen opinion that was further amplified by the platform and support of the internet industry.
Now the power of internet protest has been unleashed, the question is, how will citizens and internet platforms wield this power in the future?
Though SOPA and PIPA are near death, the entertainment industry cannot be expected to absorb the costs of piracy forever, making this the beginning, not the end, of a negotiation between the concept of free speech, creative commons and intellectual property rights.