People power pushes back on Internet censorship

by Brian Fitzgerald

January 19, 2012

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU everyone who took action yesterday, and took a historic stand against Internet censorship. We’re proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s biggest websites, and all of you, in opposing SOPA and PIPA — the two pieces of legislation in the US designed to prevent copyright piracy on the web, but which would have granted corporations unprecedented powers to limit free expression.

It was an amazing day; PIPA, which had looked certain to become law, has now lost a quarter of its sponsors. At least 18 senators heard the roar of opposition and reversed their support for the bill in the course of the day.

SOPA blackout pages

25 Greenpeace websites worldwide went dark in solidarity with activism from Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Wired, Reddit, Boing Boing, Reporters Without Borders, Pressthink, McSweeney’s, MoveOn, more than 25,000 WordPress blogs, and untold numbers of sites great and puny.

Tweets about SOPA/PIPA peaked at 267,000 per hour.

Google drew 4.5 million signatures to its opposition petition, nearly 1.5% of the US population.

This was an extraordinary show of force.  But we came perilously close to the US government enacting a law that would not only have destroyed the Internet as we know it, but empowered corporations to silence criticism and switch off pressure for reform from people-powered groups like Greenpeace. And despite yesterday’s advance, the threat has not gone away.

Just weeks ago, SOPA and PIPA had overwhelming bipartisan support. Hollywood spent an estimated $US 94 million lobbying for these bills. SOPA nearly went to a vote six months ago, and would have passed had it not been for a last minute hold from a lone senator who recognised its flaws and dangers. As Reddit Cofounder, Alexis Ohanian put it, the legislation was like a botched medical operation to cure piracy,  where not a single one of the doctors who had been called in knew anything about how the human body worked or how to wield a scalpel.

Not only would the bill have failed its intended aims, it would have driven a massive economic shift away from an Internet structured around creativity, entrepreneurship, and free expression, toward an online police state, run by corporate mob bosses, in which everyone was presumed guilty.

Here’s a great explication by Clay Shirky of some of the history behind these bills and what the music and movie industries were trying to do with SOPA/PIPA:

As our chief activist Kumi Naidoo pointed out, whatever noble intent these bills may have had — and stopping real piracy is a noble intent — the possibility for abuse by environmental criminals was staggering. Victories that we’ve won over the last few years against corporate Goliaths would have been impossible had SOPA/PIPA been isolating copyright claims from the scrutiny of courts and suffocating the ability of our online activists to share and spread their outrage, opposition, and action.

The Washington Post’s Wonk Blog listed as hosting one of the top 5 blackout pages. Ironically, it wasn’t ours. The design was based on an HTML template created by Zachary Johnson and posted to Reddit in the public domain for anyone’s use during the protest.  It was a beautiful example of exactly the kind of open-source sharing and remixing that SOPA and PIPA would kill.

What did you do to stop SOPA while the Internet was dark yesterday?

What were your favorite artifacts of the protest? Let us know in the comments.

And please, continue to speak out. The remaining supporters of the bill can be found here, along with contact details.  SOPA/PIPA are not dead yet.

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