Those of us who were gearing up for all-out rants and protests against misguided and unworkable proposals to stifle online freedom can breathe easier now that Congress has backed off – at least for the moment.
The two congressional bills — the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the House’s even more offensive Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — were brought to you by the same folks who rail against intrusive government regulation while singing the praises of unfettered liberty and freedom—except when it’s not in their interest to do so.
Both bills generated intense opposition from tech giants and First Amendment advocates. In December, influential technology leaders, including founders of Twitter, Google and YouTube, published an open letter to lawmakers saying that the legislation would enable Internet regulation and censorship on a par with the government regulation in China and Iran.
But prospects for passage apparently dissolved when the Obama administration expressed strong opposition to the central element of the legislative approaches to combat online piracy. A response to two We the People petitions was posted on a White House blog Saturday by the administration’s chief technology officials. Earlier SOPA sponsors had agreed to drop a key provision that would have required service providers to block access to international sites accused of piracy.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” the White House officials said.
Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, US Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff asserted that the important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative internet.
“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” they said.
A few hours after, the White House statement was issued SOPA was shelved, with action on the bill put off indefinitely.
Despite the developments from the White House and Capitol Hill, thousands of internet sites are taking part today in a “blackout” protest against the PIPA/SOPA bills. Wikipedia and WordPress are among the highest profile pages to remove material. Google also showed solidarity by placing a black box over its logo when U.S.-based users visit the site. The whole blackout initiative took on a life of its own even though events made it unnecessary: the Internet won, for now.
SOPA is flawed and full of unintended consequences that the Obama administration rightly exposed. Internet freedom is preserved, but anti-piracy legislation likely will return at some point in the near future, probably after the general election.
[Image credit: Internet Access Here by Steve Rhode via Flickr cc]