It is no secret that online piracy is a very serious problem in our Technology Age. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a measure before Congress meant to confront the sale and distribution of pirated movies, drugs, music and other consumer goods by rogue overseas sites. Supporters of the legislation include big media, pharmaceutical companies, and the fashion industry. They have overwhelmingly outspent the Internet industry supporting the measure. For its part, Internet companies have stuck to their belief that the measure goes too far and could disrupt creativity, violate the First Amendment, and could give the U.S. government free reign in shutting down sites it deems illegitimate. As is true of most legislation before Congress, this one is put forward with the best of intentions, but ultimately if passed could spell the ruination of the Information Super Highway. Thank goodness, the Internet was around to protect itself yesterday.
The DailyPaul, Wikipedia, Reddit, and over 7,000 other high-traffic websites blacked themselves out or supported the protest of SOPA yesterday online. The blackouts not only were a form of protest, but were meant to show Internet users how things could be if SOPA becomes law.
Apparently the tactic worked. After being deluged with emails and phone calls many senators including co-sponsors of the measure, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas, and Orrin Hatch of Utah withdrew their support. Rubio used the same medium used to protest the bill when he announced to his followers on facebook:
“Earlier this year, this bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and without controversy. Since then, we’ve heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet. Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.”
At this point in time SOPA has been essentially tabled and had its most controversial parts removed.
A potentially disastrous bill that seemed to have a relatively easy path to passage in Congress was suddenly halted and potentially killed. And we owe it all to Internet activism. Like the invention of the printing press during the Renaissance, the Internet is the great equalizer between moneyed interests and common folks. The printing press spread the message of the Protestant reformers breaking the stranglehold of the Catholic Church over Europe. It proliferated Enlightenment ideas dealing with the relationship between people and their government which eventually ushered in a new era of liberalism, representative democracy, and free market capitalism.
The Internet of course has similar potential to transform our world today. Young folks are in tune with what is happening in their world through it. My 8th graders in Qatar, who are usually a little behind the curve when it comes to current events, were keenly aware of the SOPA controversy because some of their popular sites were participating in the protest. It was amazing to me how well read many of them were on the potential harm SOPA could do to the medium they rely on to function.
And there is no question that the Web has been an effective tool used by Ron Paul and his supporters to win over young voters. It is a place where anti-establishment types can organize and spread information without interference from the corporate/state controlled mainstream media. And that is the point here. Any time real Americans can circumvent the bias of the Establishment media to deliver an important message they now can. So, the Internet didn’t just protect itself yesterday, it protected all of us.