Looks like it’s over. Senate bill PIPA and its house companion bill SOPA have been shelved indefinitely by their sponsors. On Friday, the announcements were made by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). And it wasn’t the pundits or political experts that made it happen. It was the people of this country – our nation’s collective vox populi – that made it possible.
On Wednesday we looked at the Internet blackout – sites like Wikipedia, Reddit, WordPress, Tumblr and more replaced their regular daily content with black screens, featuring information about PIPA and SOPA instead, citing reasons for its detriment to the internet age, and a number of resources for how to take action if the reader user chose to do so. Even webcomic artists like XKCD’s Randall Munroe and Questionable Content’s Jeph Jacques joined in the blackout for solidarity, while Ars Technica hosted “SOPA Resistance Day.”
January 18th marked the largest protest in the history of the internet. By the numbers, there were 10 million petition signatures. Through the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, over 3 million emails were sent to Senators and Representatives. All for one singular purpose – convincing their politicians to drop support for these bills. And damn did it ever work.
“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said. “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.” This statement came just hours after a tweet from Senator Reid stating “In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act #PIPA”
I remember watching the first SOPA markup session in the House Judiciary Committee on a live stream and seeing Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) stand up to point out the flaws in the bill. While it seemed like there wasn’t enough knowledge in the room, these two representatives called for a hearing with technical experts to discuss every provision, including those covering DNS blocking. Back then SOPA and PIPA never made the news cycle, and everyone outside of my circles of nerds looked at me cross whenever I mentioned it (They thought I was talking about soap, soup, and now-global sweetheart Pippa Middleton).
So while the movement against SOPA had support, that support didn’t have numbers. There simply wasn’t any awareness in mainstream media or an understanding in non-technical people as to what was being discussed in Congress. That’s where the January 18th blackout protest came in. In addition to the millions online, people physically took to the streets in protest and generated a grassroots protest the likes of which we have never seen before.
Any of you that have read my articles with any regularity know what my stance was on SOPA and PIPA. Ever since I saw that SOPA live stream, the overturning of these bills became a big cause of mine. The internet is the greatest innovation in the history of the world – it connects us all, allows us to share, and is integral to not only the innovation and economic health of this country, but the entire world. I’d like to personally thank every person that took action on this issue over the past few months. Whether you wrote your congressman, stood in protest, joined the blackout in solidarity, posted messages on social media, or even just spread the word and educated those around you, it was everyone’s action together that helped to keep our internet free. And to members of Congress, I commend you for hearing the voice of your constituents.