Not long ago the controversial law known as the Stop Online Piracy Act was poised to sail through Congress. But it lost traction at a Congressional earlier hearing this month and this week it suffered an additional two setbacks.
The bill called SOPA is backed by Hollywood and would force a wide range of internet players — from search engines to ad networks to payment processors — to cut off services to so-called ‘rogue websites’ that sell fake goods. Journalists and tech companies responded by warning that the bill is a gross overreach and that it will result in censorship and technical damage to the internet.
At first, SOPA supporters rebuffed the objectors by framing the debate as one about about patriotism, property and security. They also maintained majority support in Congress by portraying critics as part of a lefty techno elite. But that narrative began to unravel at a House judiciary committee hearing in mid-December which called into question whether the bill’s sponsors fully understood its implications.
This week brought two further developments that tilt in favor of SOPA opponents. The first is a series of press releases from Go Daddy in which the domain name registrar said it was withdrawing its Congressional support for SOPA and that it did not officially support the bill. The move was significant because it came in response to a boycott campaign in which at least 70,000 registrants reportedly transferred their services. It also presages what could be in store for other companies that support the bill.
The second and more important event happened yesterday when the Drudge Report picked up an astute CNET report that speculated how opponents like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Facebook could offset the money advantage of SOPA supporters by turning their homepages into billboards opposing the bill. Like him or hate him, Matt Drudge is a king-maker in the news industry and stories he posts are read by millions. His decision to pick up the CNET story does not just reflect the importance of the SOPA debate. It is also a dog-whistle for other right-leaning blogs to begin attacking the law.
Overall, this means that 2012 will begin with a full-court press in which right-wing media are poised to join Silicon Valley and left-leaning technology blogs in opposing SOPA. The law’s supporters say they will push forward with the bill as soon as Congress resumes. But this time around, it looks like they might be the ones playing defense.