What the Five Year Anniversary of the SOPA/PIPA Blackout Can Teach Congress About Tech

from the sopa,-pipa,-spotify-and-privacy dept

Five years ago this week, Americans opened their internet browsers and saw darkness.

Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and other major websites had banded together and gone dark to make a then-obscure piece of legislation infamous. Wikipedia shut down completely for 24 hours and a black band masked the Google logo.

These internet giants and other online sites joined millions of Americans in protesting the 2012 Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) legislation in a historic grassroots movement. More than four million people signed Google’s online petition linked to the blacked-out homepage. Eight million people looked up how to contact their representative when prompted to by Wikipedia. Tumblr alone produced 87,000 calls to representatives. The vast numbers led most congressional sponsors to rescind their support of the bill.

SOPA and PIPA were well intended but ill-advised attempts on the part of Congress to protect the American copyright industry. But the legislation was so broad that it had the potential to harm or eradicate entire websites or online services, instead of specifically targeting individuals who uploaded illegal content.

The New York Times called the SOPA/PIPA protests a “coming of age for the tech industry,” and at CTA, we were proud to help lead this vital growth. It was a bipartisan and cross industry effort: venture capitalists and law professors, computer scientists and human rights advocates, progressives and tea partiers teamed together to fight the bills. Still, the bills progressed through Congress and appeared to have the momentum necessary to become law.

The 2012 CES proved to be one of the turning points. We invited two legislators — Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden — to Las Vegas to explain how the bill would jeopardize the freedom of the digital world. Both policymakers made strong, smart and passionate cases, and the press and attendees listened. Within days, the tide had reversed, and members of Congress ceased their support of the harmful bills. Weeks later, SOPA and PIPA were history.

We did this because we believe innovation, not an overbroad law, is the best way to grow the economy and fight piracy. History has proved us right. In five years since SOPA/PIPA failed, we’ve seen many instances of market disruptions and many more cases of technological innovation. Spotify, the now-ubiquitous Swedish streaming service, intentionally developed free streaming as a legal competitor to illegal piracy. It worked: piracy has dropped significantly. In 2013, less than 10 percent of daily web traffic in North America came from peer-to-peer file sharing compared to 31 percent in 2008.

Even more exciting, streaming services also led to significant revenue growth for the music industry. The Recording Industry Association of America, one of the major supporters of the SOPA/PIPA legislation, reported an 8.1 percent increase in overall revenues from the first half of 2015 to the first half of 2016. This was due in large part to paid subscriptions to streaming services.

Other content industries have experienced massive growth as well. Video streaming programs such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu continue to thrive. U.S. consumers spent 22 percent more on subscription video streaming services in 2016 than in 2015.

The combination of audio and video streaming takes up a whopping 71 percent of evening home entertainment in North America, and this number should only grow in the coming years. Once at odds on the floor of Congress, the innovation of the tech industry and the creativity of the media industries now mutually support and sustain one another’s growth.

New technologies will lead to the same market disruptions that the internet prompted for the media industry. Will Congress support new technologies or stifle them? And how will legacy industries evolve to thrive in this changing technological landscape?

This year at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, innovators from around the globe came to exhibit technology that will change our world as we know it. Augmented and virtual reality technology will profoundly affect the media landscape, creating a more immersive and personalized experience. Drones have already changed the face of the retail industry, with Amazon making its first drone delivery in time for the holiday season. Self-driving cars will revolutionize the auto industry, decrease traffic deaths and bring increased mobility to the elderly and those with disabilities. In dealing with the challenges that will inevitably arise, will Congress choose to preserve old models and technologies, or will it embrace the new and allow American ingenuity to lead?

Five years ago, members of Congress sided with progress over fear. The resulting explosion of innovation proved them right. As other new disruptive technologies emerge, we urge policymakers to heed the lessons of SOPA and PIPA and allow new innovations to prosper, thrive and move our society forward.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro

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Comments on “What the Five Year Anniversary of the SOPA/PIPA Blackout Can Teach Congress About Tech”

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Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: ...the civil rights act of 1964 all of these where enforced by violence ...

That one was not. The civil rights marchers were not the ones who were armed: it was their opponents who wielded the guns.

Peaceful protest wins over armed attempts at suppression: that is the lesson to be learned. Wield a gun and you stoop to the same level as your enemy: words and personal testimony are mightier than weapons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When did congress make progress?

“The revolution, the civil war, the civil rights act of 1964”

One of these is not like the others, can you find it?

“all of these where enforced by violence,”

Not sure what you mean by “enforced” in this context. For example, how was the revolution enforced? How was the civil war enforced? Laws are enforced, sometimes violence results, how is the civil rights act any different than any other laws in this respect?

” I don’t understand why anyone thinks any progress will be made without revolutionary activity, is confused.”

Yes, you look confused. Certainly you can think of at least one situation where progress was achieved without any violence/revolution/etc. Do give it a try.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You mean like the jocks in the analogy you love to use? You know, the one about how everyone who doesn’t agree with you must have been a nerd in high school, and you like to imagine yourself as the jock that got his rocks off shoving other students into lockers?

Judging by your reaction it seems that five years down the road, you haven’t moved on. Sounds like the original post was very much justified.

Why not soothe that butthurt of yours with a SOPA vote?

Anonymous Coward says:

In 2013, less than 10 percent of daily web traffic in North America came from peer-to-peer file sharing – a more than 20 percent drop from 2008, when it comprised 31 percent of daily traffic.

That looks like a 200% drop to me. Or a 66% drop. 20% really understates the impact. I’m not sure any of those figures are entirely incorrect though…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

” – a more than 20 percentage points drop” would be the correct way to phrase it

Otherwise since it going FROM 31 to 10 .. it’s new figure would be a 67.75% drop

If it was going FROM 10 to 31, it would be 210% increase – not a 210% drop … you can’t lose more than 100% (in this case, you cannot have less than 0% traffic share, i.e no negative figures).

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