“Stunts”: So Chris Dodd, former senator and now chair and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), described the anti-SOPA blackout and protest that Wikipedia, Reddit and numerous other Internet sites staged today, January 18. But the web-wide movement against two anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), has indeed “rattled” Congress. Early Wednesday morning, freshman senator Marco Rubio ( R-Fl.) withdrew his support from PIPA, which he had co-sponsored. Also in the Senate, John Cornyn (R-Tx.) called for more time to study the bill and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Scott Brown (R-Ma.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — the co-chairman of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus – all withdrew their support from PIPA, which is scheduled for a vote early next week.
President Barack Obama also said that he will not support SOPA.
Rubio explained his change of heart in a Facebook post, “A Better Way to Fight the Online Theft of American Ideas and Jobs“:
On the Senate side, I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.
However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.
A spokesperson for Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) — a sponsor of PIPA — said that a “significant” volume of calls had been received on Wednesday. CNET notes that those legislators who remain as co-sponsors “are now doing so with markedly less enthusiasm.”
Two co-sponsors of SOPA, Representatives Ben Quayle (R-AZ) and Lee Terry (R-NE), have indicated on Wednesday afternoon that they are no longer behind the bill.
As many as 7,000 U.S. websites joined in the protest. The Cheezburger network, document service Scribd and news site Raw Story joined in the blackout. Google put a big black rectangular over its logo and black boxes checkered Wired‘s site, a graphic display of what censorship of the Internet could look like. (CNET has an image gallery of SOPA protests.) WordPress, Amazon and Flickr also joined in. Craigslist posted this message:
“Corporate paymasters, KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET”
The scope of the online protest was indeed “unprecedented” and reveals the power of new media interests “against some of the most powerful old-line interests in Washington” — namely, the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America (RPAA) and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. While “practiced at old-time lobbying,” they are less adept at using newer social media tools (as suggested by the volume of criticism directed at Murdoch when he accused Google on Twitter of being a “piracy leader”). As the New York Times observes:
In the Tea Party era of grass-roots muscle, though, the old school was taken to school, Congressional aides and media lobbyists agree.
“The problem for the content industry is they just don’t know how to mobilize people,” said John P. Feehery, a former Republican leadership aide and executive at the motion picture lobby. “They have a small group of content makers, a few unions, whereas the Internet world, the social media world especially, has a tremendous reach. They can reach people in ways we never dreamed of before.
“This has been a real learning experience for the content world,” Mr. Feehery added.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube: Were not these the sites that broadcast last year’s Arab Spring uprisings to the world?
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Photo of anti-SOPA protest in New York by gfhdickinson