Opponents of SOPA and PIPA won an important battle this week as a massive protest -- online and off -- forced lawmakers to rethink the controversial legislation.
First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.'s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever.
Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition.
"Thanks for all the calls, e-mails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA and #PIPA," Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a Twitter message. Late Wednesday, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, withdrew his support for a bill he helped write.
In addition, some of the most controversial "site-blocking measures" are likely coming out of the legislation, according to various reports. But the war over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protest IP Act) is not over: The House bill isn't dead and the Senate is still planning to vote on PIPA next week; that bill still includes the 'information location tool' language that opponents say can be interpreted to mean "anybody who links to anything," says Andrew McDiarmid, an analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a non-profit public interest group.
Like Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, Craiglist, Flickr, Facebook and countless other Web sites and Internet users, McDiarmid believes the definitions of what constitutes "infringement" and whether a site is "dedicated" to wrongdoing are far too broad in SOPA and PIPA. Opponents say the legislation, as currently proposed, would result in virtual government censorship of the Internet, force many sites to go black and stifle innovation.
"Everyone wants to support goal of protecting [against copyright and trademark] infringement but nobody wants to compromise the openness of the Internet that makes it what it is," McDiarmid says. "More work needs to be done on these bills to make sure they're striking the right balance."
While some of the opposition to SOPA and PIPA has descended into hyperbole, McDiarmid points to the bottom line: The cost of complying with the legislation -- as currently proposes -- would be a major impediment to many Web sites and could result in higher fees for all Internet users, not just online shoppers.
"Policies that allow innovators to develop new products and create new platforms for free expression and for commerce wouldn't be able to operate without protections they have, particularly under the DMCA," he says, referring to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which compels sites to remove content that infringes on copyrights but not proactively monitor for it or assure no violations before publishing.
"Altering that balance will have a huge impact on investment in those services," McDiarmid continues. "We've got to tread carefully."