Protests against the proposed anti-piracy bill SOPA, combined with a recent statement from the Obama administration criticizing the legislation, seem to have had some effect. Reports out of Washington say the bill has been put on hold indefinitely, until some kind of “consensus” can be reached. Is this a victory? Not quite. Government watchers say this move could be just a delaying tactic, and note that an equally unfavorable bill called PIPA is going ahead in the Senate. As a result, many of those planning to stage web “blackouts” in protest of the legislation are continuing with their efforts, including Wikipedia.
As Stacey noted last week, the list of those planning to go dark on Jan. 18 to protest the bill that some say could “break the Internet” has been growing longer since word of the protest first emerged over the past couple of weeks. The online community Reddit has committed to shut down, as has I Can Has Cheezburger humor network and the tech blog Boing Boing — and on Monday, the co-founder of Wikipedia said the English version of the user-edited encyclopedia would also join the fight.
Reports that the SOPA legislation had been shelved — just days after the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith, agreed to remove one of the bill’s most controversial elements (the requirement that ISPs remove offending websites from the central domain-name system) — led some to believe the law was effectively dead, but a number of observers have questioned that assumption. Among them is O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly, who said on Twitter that reports of SOPA’s demise “are premature” and those protesting against the legislation should “keep up the fight.”
In an interview with GigaOM’s Colleen Taylor last week, O’Reilly said he was fighting the legislation because he doesn’t believe piracy is the kind of problem that requires a draconian legal solution. Instead, O’Reilly argues that the media and entertainment companies that have spent so much time lobbying for SOPA and PIPA should focus on adapting their business models for the digital age.
SOPA may be shelved, but PIPA is still very much alive
Wales also told his followers on Twitter that SOPA was far from dead, and noted that the Senate version of the anti-piracy legislation — which is known as the PROTECT-IP Act or PIPA — is “still going strong.” And according to Wales, who quoted a source in Washington, the bill’s sponsor has made it clear he plans to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote (although Senator Patrick Leahy has proposed that the Senate should also reconsider the DNS aspect of the bill that’s expected to make its way to the floor for comment next week).
Despite the moves by Wikipedia and other sites to go dark in protest (and similar efforts aimed at getting people to change their Twitter avatars, which have been spearheaded by Google staffer Hunter Walk), not everyone is convinced a blackout is the right approach: Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, for one, said closing a global business in reaction to that kind of political issue is foolish. In followup messages, Costolo said Twitter has “been very active and will continue to be very active” in protesting SOPA and PIPA, but didn’t provide any specifics.
Meanwhile, Reddit plans to continue with its blackout, and members of the online community argue that the shelving of SOPA is just a bargaining tactic — in other words, the government is hoping if it gives the impression it has caved in to criticism, it can somehow generate more support for the Senate version of the legislation, in a kind of bait-and-switch move.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation also said that despite the Obama administration’s criticism of SOPA, and the agreement to remove the DNS-blocking provision (or at least reconsider it), the “fight is still far from over.” The non-profit agency said while SOPA had been shelved, its proponents could easily try to revive it, and the very similar Senate bill PIPA was still expected to come to the floor next week. Both bills “must be stopped if we want to protect free speech and innovation on the web,” the EFF said.
Whether the protests planned by Reddit and Wikipedia will have any long-term effect on the legislative support for either SOPA or PIPA is still a question mark, of course — and so is the fate of a proposed bi-partisan alternative to the two bills known as OPEN, which is sponsored by two of the most prominent SOPA and PIPA critics, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Darrell Issa. Will that bill get any more interest from Silicon Valley as a viable solution to piracy, or will it suffer the same fate as its predecessors?