Last week, two days after a massive, global online protest against the U.S. Congress' misguided Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate twin, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), lawmakers in Congress have delayed further committee and voting action. SOPA, temporarily, is dead.
This legislative battle boiled down to two sides: one with the power of money, the other with the power of the American people. Two favorites of Big Hollywood lobbyists, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), are the lead sponsors of SOPA, which is being pushed by the notorious Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). A broad coalition of individual Internet users, companies, civil liberties groups and small businesses led the charge against SOPA. Wikipedia and Craigslist blacked out their sites and Google placed a black redaction box over its homepage logo in solidarity against this legislation. I did not update my Facebook Page or my Twitter feed and I am happy to have joined with an estimated 13 million people who were involved in some way with the Internet "black out" that occurred January 18th and led to the delay of SOPA.
SOPA sponsors claim to be fighting a righteous war against online piracy, an issue that must indeed be addressed. However, SOPA's heavy-handedness -- from the ability of the United States attorney general to unilaterally shut down websites to putting the onus of copyright protection on individual Web companies -- was the wrong solution. As one Internet expert put it: Speeding is illegal, too, but we don't put speed bumps on the highway.
Internet innovators, including Twitter, Facebook and Google, would be put in untenable positions. Tiny startups would immediately be hamstrung by far-reaching responsibilities like tracking each post or upload by every one of its users. It is estimated that to conform to SOPA, a similar company would have to pay 1,000 additional positions to monitor its online presence. Even with the best intentions, considering the legal consequences SOPA would put in place for missing something, there would be a tendency to "overcorrect" and censor as much user content as possible. The organic way in which Twitter and Facebook were both developed would be impossible under SOPA.
So it is nothing short of poetic justice that SOPA died by the hands of those its backers desired to suppress. The grassroots action taken across the country to defeat SOPA is exactly the type of civic engagement and true democracy that would suffer under SOPA. From Tahrir Square in Cairo, which helped launch last year's Arab Spring, to Zuccotti Park in New York City, where the Occupy movement began its nationwide advocacy, the flexibility of the Internet and social media has empowered the voiceless and given hope to the oppressed.
It is a true testament to the power of the Internet's ability to deliver a message from the people that the death of SOPA was not brought about by a fierce, highly financed lobbying opposition, but by the sheer will of Americans from every corner of this country. The large-scale success of online organizing to force the government to delay -- and hopefully drop -- the notion of Internet censorship begs the question of how such authoritarian-style legislation could be put forth in the first place.
The answer lies in the seemingly alternate-reality known as Washington, D.C., where SOPA sponsors' decades in Congress seem to have insulated them from America's new, dynamic landscape. The rapidly changing world in which we live demands modern views on the technologies Americans use and the ways we interact with each other. SOPA represents a 20th century draconian solution to a 21st century modern problem and Americans, particularly we here in Detroit and its metropolitan area, deserve leaders in our nation's capital who understand our needs, respond to our wishes and advocate our interests.
When entrenched politicians, under pressure from big-money organizations that fund their campaigns, turn their backs on the small businesses and innovators among the citizenry, it is clearly time for a change. We must be vigilant in protecting American intellectual property and SOPA's opponents have indeed shown themselves to be open to this as long as they are granted a seat at the table. SOPA, in one form or another, will be back; its supporters, rather than try to silence the voices of individuals and Internet entrepreneurs should include them and their input. As independent startup businesses throughout Detroit and southeastern Michigan flourish and encourage economic investment, our representatives in government should be working to foster these small businesses and the jobs they create, not carry water for Washington, D.C. lobbyists.
State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) is in his first term in the Michigan Senate. He represents District 2 which includes northeast Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Harper Woods and the five Grosse Pointe communities. He can be reached by phone at 517-373-7748, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at Facebook.com/SenBertJohnson.
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