PIPA / SOPA and the Online Tsunami: A First Draft of the Future

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Some of this may be business as usual in Congress; bill sponsors work hard to pass their legislation and don't readily grant naysayers attention or time to generate momentum. But in future matters regarding the Internet, business as usual won't be sufficient. When there is a broad and diffuse group of Internet users who view themselves as stakeholders, a more open, inclusive and deliberative process must be the first order of business with the Internet community at the table.

4. Ignorance about how the Internet works is no longer an option. Congress needs to engage with the technical community and take its advice seriously. A major theme of the opposition was that Congress was simply ignorant of the technical implications of its proposals. Many leading engineers behind the domain name system warned of problems with PIPA and SOPA. Sandia National Labs said it would undermine cybersecurity. Yet in December, a majority of the House Judiciary Committee appeared content to profess its ignorance of the Internet and proceed regardless, without further input from technical experts. As a widely circulated article observed, it is "no longer OK" for members of Congress to profess their own lack of technical understanding of the Internet even as they cast votes on Internet legislation. Future Internet policy debates need to reflect both better technical understanding and more reliance on true technical experts.

5. Overreaching Internet related legislation is no longer a successful strategy. Proponents of PIPA and SOPA acknowledged that the legislation was no silver bullet against online piracy. Yet they still tried hard to "future proof" the legislation by including multiple and overlapping enforcement tools and open-ended definitions designed to make sure that no future "rogue site" would escape its reach. The end result was sweeping discretion for law enforcement and major concerns about potential overbreadth.

When Internet legislation tries to be address every perceived harm, it sacrifices its ability to be narrowly targeted and draws in a broad swath of lawful Internet actors into the enforcement tent.

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