The hundreds of thousand of calls to Congress and millions of petition signatures opposing two controversial bills, SOPA and PIPA, have been characterized as a revolution. Former Senator Dodd, who heads the MPAA, the trade group leading the SOPA and PIPA effort, likened Internet user protests to an Arab Spring in the United States. On this alone he was right!
This tsunami of unprecedented U.S. political action online was focused on maintaining Internet openness and freedom, and swamped entertainment industry lobbyists, whose overreaching legislation had been rushing through Congress ignoring both process and consequence.
Millions of Internet users joined forces in a unique Internet way to protest legislation that would have compelled online censorship by US companies seeking to avoid an unjustified legal lawsuit tsunami from the entertainment industry. Internet users and the State Department, were able to understand the ripple affect of this as other governments would utilize similar techniques to block not just infringing content, but anything else they wanted to censor online.
The willingness of so many Americans to reject the misleading claims of the entertainment industry and their surrogates that the bill was just aimed only at, and implicitly would only impact, foreign rogue websites is heartening. The Internet itself provided the tools they needed to research the bills, to digest the pros and cons, and to rise up and object in a commendable and historic way.
They stood up for Internet freedom and insisted their lawmakers do so too. They acted to save the Internet as we know it. This response flooded senators' websites and phone lines.
Before millions woke up to the Internet blackout that darkened more than 75,000 websites, others had helped lay the groundwork.
Credit and thanks goes to the Internet engineers, cybersecurity experts, venture capitalists, companies, associations and NGOs who recognized the threats to the Internet architecture, cybersecurity and the U.S. economy with such poorly targeted bills, and went on the record to Congress. Editorials by the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times (entertainment industry home town newspapers), and thousands of White House petitioners helped build opposition.
But even all these efforts would have been for naught if it were not for the dedicated persistence of a handful of senators and congressmen who stood up and stood firm. CCIA is an organization that has spent 40 years fighting threats to openness and innovation, and we hope all join with us in thanking them.
Other senators who early on showed they understood how the Internet works and were willing to defend it include Senators. Paul, R-Ky., Cantwell, D-Wash., and Moran, R-Kansas., who also promised to block a vote on these bills.
These defenders of the Internet in the Senate and House Judiciary Committee members Lofgren, D-Calif., Issa, R- Calif., Polis, D-Colo., and Chaffetz, R-Utah, and others, forced extended attention and scrutiny on the real implications of the legislation, buying critical weeks that enabled others to understand what was really at stake.
Without these experts and courageous members of Congress, Internet users may have woken up this spring to a censored Internet == not a censored Wikipedia and Mozilla.
As someone who has fought battles for Internet freedom for decades and against attempts to spy, surveil, filter and censor, I do expect continued attempts by the entertainment industry to dominate the Internet. They misjudged the power of the Internet and its users, but their inclination to cling to questionable business models rather than fully utilize the promise of the Internet will result in repeated attempts to further control Internet companies and to use liability laws to create a privatized Internet censorship regime.
Sure, they'll call it something else next time, probably not PIPA II or Return of PIPA, and definitely not Son of SOPA. Once again, CCIA and our allies will be ready to sound early warning signs if the result threatens the core freedom and openness on which the Internet depends.
Many have expressed hope Internet users will also rise again when the next threat to the Internet comes. My hope is they won't have to -- at least not in such a dramatic way. Members of Congress don't need to be geeks or even know much about how the Internet really works to understand this lesson on how the Internet informs and empowers citizens to participate in democracies. I would hope they would seek better information and deeper understanding before scheduling votes on legislation that might disable a tool that's so critical to our economy, our diplomacy and our democracy.
Follow Edward J. Black on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ccianet