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SOPA/PIPA Dead ...For Now.

January 20, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

Following a day of unprecedented online protest, the web censorship bills in Congress, SOPA and PIPA, have officially been tabled. “In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act (PIPA)," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning.

SOPA in the House was put on hold as well. “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,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman and SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith. The SOPA mark-up was scheduled to resume on Feb. 18th, but it has now officially been postponed indefinitely.

Just weeks ago, these bills were considered virtually untouchable by everyone who follows Congress. The bipartisan support for the bills, both within members of Congress and among special-interest groups, was deeper than just about any other bill proposed this session. The best description of how the game shifted comes from MPAA Chairman (and former senator) Chris Dodd himself:

By Mr. Dodd’s account, no Washington player can safely assume that a well-wired, heavily financed legislative program is safe from a sudden burst of Web-driven populism.

“This is altogether a new effect,” Mr. Dodd said, comparing the online movement to the Arab Spring. He could not remember seeing “an effort that was moving with this degree of support change this dramatically” in the last four decades, he added.

In other words, the political establishment has been forced to recognize that even the best revolving-door connections and the most obscene financial investments in political campaigns do not necessarily top a united public armed with the means to communicate freely and directly on the internet. Until now, this really, truly was not clear as far as it applies to legislative battles in the U.S. Congress.

For sure, Congress and the entertainment industry will bring these bills back to the table again. The entertainment industry desperately wants special rules that allow them to legally censor online speech in order to defend their legacy business model. By all accounts they are more focused and more invested on getting Congress to change the rules than they are on updating their business and improving their content to compete in 2012 and beyond. Don’t expect the threat of SOPA/PIPA-style web censorship to go away any time soon.

The corporations pushing bills like SOPA and PIPA are dead set on limiting the rule of law as it applies to the internet. For the moment, we’ve succesfully defended the rule of law. But to ensure that we win in the future, we need to use this victory as a starting point for a pro-active movement in support of online freedom. The internet is an essential element of the public sphere; we need to consider our values and work to make sure the internet reflects them.

Pictured above is PIPA sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy [D, VT].

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