The Stop Online Piracy Act, and its sister legislation in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act caused quite a stir in Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Washington. The two bills were intended to put a hard stop on theft of intellectual property on the Internet, by means that are controversial in terms of the First Amendment. Big players from the overlapping worlds of movies and music pushed for this bill, including Disney, the parent company of ABC News. So did their high priced lobbyists. But SOPA and PIPA were ultimately shelved last week, and not just because there were formidable forces lined up against it. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL and Twitter are just a few of the tech companies that opposed the bills, and they can certainly afford some pretty high priced lobbyists, too.
What also put a knife through the heart of SOPA and PIPA was the non-paid lobbyist community—a.k.a., the grassroots. The last few weeks, millions of people signed petitions in opposition of the bills. And sites like Wikipedia and Reddit went dark for 24 hours in protest.
"What has happened in the last few weeks will permanently change the way citizens communicate with their government… This is a new day," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), told The Washington Post's Greg Sargent. Wyden has been SOPA and PIPA's chief opponent in the Senate.
I don't argue with the good intentions of the bills' sponsors—online piracy of music, movies and the like is a serious problem that has existed and grown in direct proportion to the existence and growth of the Internet itself. But Silicon Valley folks argued that the proposed legislation would seriously curtail the operations of very popular websites, such as YouTube, even though the proprietors of those sites are not trying to steal anything themselves, and generally take steps to be certain that they don't, in the language of the bills, "facilitate" online piracy. Regardless of the fate that befalls either piece of legislation, the battle over online piracy is raging and will continue for quite some time. And the reason why the issue will remain top of mind is the same reason why the bills were beaten back: powerful interests lined up on both sides of the issue, and real people weighed in and let their voices be heard. I only hope that people keep talking because the truth of the matter is that SOPA and PIPA only scratch the surface of online piracy.
But while we contemplate the gargantuan battle of the content vs. technology worlds, we must not forget an equally serious, actually even more serious example of online piracy.