Two weeks ago, 99 percent (not THE 99 percent, if you're wondering) of people had no idea about SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. Today, while 99 percent of Americans still haven't read it, they know they don't like it. SOPA and PIPA (for Preventing Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, but I digress), the former's partner in the U.S. Senate, are doomed. Neither bill will be brought up for a vote in Congress. But just a few weeks ago both pieces of legislation seemed like slam-dunks.
The proposed laws were aimed at protecting copyright holders against theft of intellectual property. This seems like a worthy goal, as movies, books, music, software and other materials are easily pirated and resold online, collectively costing the original owners of the IP millions, if not billions of dollars annually. The problem is that existing laws can't protect the rights of the IP owners in the digital age, which is why SOPA was hatched. As a journalist who works for a media company, I regularly see unauthorized reproduction of our content on websites.
SOPA and PIPA would allow copyright holders to apply for a court order to compel advertisers and financial institutions to stop processing transactions for offending websites. Meanwhile, they would grant the Department of Justice the ability to determine which rogue websites were duplicating content and seek to shut down or disable them. This is where opposition groups to the legislation focused their anger.
[Related Article: "SOPA: Stop Grandstanding, Start Crafting An Alternative"]
What was most shocking about the SOPA saga was not the way the laws were written. After all, big media organizations and companies such as NBCUniversal, Walt Disney, the Motion Picture Association of America, Viacom and Macmillan Publishers were behind the legislation and supported it. What is most surprising is how quickly support for the two pieces of legislation fell apart.
Grassroots opposition mounted within a matter of weeks, with the support of "new" media companies such as Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay and Mozilla. As the pressure mounted and citizens emailed and called their congressmen, the bipartisan support on Capitol Hill quickly deteriorated.
With SOPA off the table, Congress will eventually have to try to protect IP in the digital age. Hopefully next time, however, they won't underestimate the power of the Internet.