The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an online symposium where experts tackle the most difficult policy challenges facing innovation and technology today. These are problems that don't have easy solutions, where every decision involves tradeoffs and unintended consequences, so we've gathered a wide variety of voices to help dissect existing policy proposals and better inform new ones.

Winding Down Our Latest Greenhouse Panel: The Lessons Learned From SOPA/PIPA

from the past-is-prologue dept

Ten years ago a coalition of strange bedfellows came together to thwart one of the most problematic pieces of legislation in tech policy history. In the process they made history, rekindled waning optimism about the health of democratic process, forged longstanding new alliances across activism, politics, academia, and industry, and redefined what’s possible in the tech policy arena and the halls of Congress. Not bad for a day’s work.

Their motivation was SOPA/PIPA, a ham-fisted attempt to impose a draconian expansion to the nation’s copyright laws that experts warned would restrict speech, stifle innovation, and curtail the growth of numerous online communities. The bill crafted an extrajudicial process with contours dictated not by experts, the public, or democratic process, but by entertainment industry lawyers. Thwarting its passage required a unique fusion of DC veterans well-versed in the machinery of Congress, academics with a vast understanding of the issues at hand, and younger activists employing fresh tactics in the fight for an open internet.

The result was not only a high watermark in online activism, the lessons learned during the experience will inform coalition building and activism for decades to come. Many of the experts, industry leaders, and politicians who experienced the battle first hand were kind enough to share their thoughts on the experience. Their contributions are outlined here, in case you missed any:

  • Mike Masnick reflected on his experience of the campaign, and discussed how the successes of the SOPA/PIPA fight can help drive optimism for future reform efforts and meaningful change.
  • Tiffiniy Cheng discussed how the activist backlash to SOPA/PIPA not only killed the bill in 2012, the internet blackout campaign and resulting policy victory “shook Congress so profoundly that no significant copyright legislation has been introduced in the ten years since.”
  • David Segal wrote about Aaron Swartz’s contributions to the SOPA/PIPA fight, and how the battle helped build the cornerstones of his organization Demand Progress.
  • John Bergmayer celebrated the victory that was SOPA/PIPA, but made it abundantly clear there’s more work that needs to be done when it comes to preserving an open internet and ensuring that creators are paid appropriately.
  • Parker Higgins discussed how while the SOPA/PIPA campaign was a cornerstone victory, it was only one stepping stone in the context of the broader activist fight for an open internet, freedom of expression, and unfettered access to knowledge online.
  • Babatunde Okunoye wrote about how while the SOPA/PIPA fight was an important victory in the States, there remains a parade of challenges around the world when it comes to fighting for free expression and an open internet.
  • Yochai Benkler discussed the lessons learned from the SOPA/PIPA victory and how they can inform the ongoing fight against crony capitalism and the steady creep of global authoritarianism.
  • Michael Petricone wrote about how the SOPA/PIPA debate helped redefine our understanding of the internet’s power and usefulness, and examined how the internet–and the entertainment companies that sponsored the bill–thrived without the need for heavy-handed copyright laws.
  • Lia Holland wrote about how years after SOPA/PIPA, the fight continues to combat exclusionary gatekeepers and monopolized control and implement interoperable, decentralized tools and technologies tailored toward the common good.
  • Christian Dawson discussed the perils of uninformed internet policy, how the SOPA/PIPA debate redefined modern activism, and the need for broad coalitions during the policy challenges to come.
  • Representative Zoe Lofgren detailed her unique vantage point on SOPA/PIPA from inside the halls of Congress, and the inspiration of informed collective action.
  • Paul Geller offered his perspective on the SOPA/PIPA fight from his vantage point at Grooveshark, and how while SOPA/PIPA was an essential victory, it may have been our last chance at forging common sense regulation aimed at protecting entrepreneurs and a vibrant internet.
  • And finally, Paul Keller took a closer look at the SOPA/PIPA fight from the European perspective, documenting how coordinated opposition to SOPA/PIPA helped inspire and galvanize opposition to the EU’s equally problematic Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
  • Again, we’d like to extend our immense appreciation to contributors of our latest roundtable, live panel participants, and Techdirt readers, and we hope these conversations have provided value to internet policymakers and everyday internet users alike.

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