from the a-big-week dept
Five Years Ago
It's time for one more focused retrospective on the events of this week in 2012: the week of the SOPA blackout and a huge victory for the internet. First, we dip briefly into the previous week, where we put out a special Saturday post to report the surprise news that the White House had come out against the approach in SOPA/PIPA. The MPAA responded to this with a bizarro-world statement interpreting it as a sign they could rush the bills through and Rupert Murdoch lashed out at the president on Twitter, while NBCUniversal's Rick Cotton was lying about the bill on MSNBC and Harry Reid was admitting concerns but insisting they must push forward. But the looming Wednesday blackout was gaining steam: Wikipedia officially announced its participation with a tweet from Jimmy Wales, then Google announced that it would join the fray, but not with a full blackout (later revealing a blacked-out logo that drew a lot of attention to its petition page). The Internet Archive (recently declared a rogue site by the entertainment industry) threw its hat into the ring as well, as did gaming site Rock Paper Shotgun and some artists like Peter Gabriel. Even Microsoft, while not joining the blackout, finally made it clear that it opposed the bills in their current form. For our part, we decided that blacking out to raise awareness wouldn't be so helpful on Techdirt where almost all of our readers were well aware of SOPA, and instead spent the day reporting on what was happening.
With all this going on, even before the protest there was talk of the bills being dead — but Lamar Smith quickly made it clear that wasn't the case. He and the MPAA both brushed off the planned blackout as a publicity stunt, and Smith put out a press release announcing the next phase of markup for the bills. On blackout day (Wednesday, January 18th) the denial continued, with the MPAA making the astonishing claim that no "big sites" had joined the protests (Wikipedia, Google and Reddit, anyone?) and Chris Dodd spouting sanctimonious bluster about tech companies turning users into their pawns. A whole bunch of creators signed a letter saying they don't want SOPA/PIPA passed in their names, and soon the blackout began to take effect...
The first one to go was Rep. Lee Terry, who removed his name as a co-sponsor. On the senate site, Marco Rubio followed suit. Then Senators Boozman, Hatch and Blunt and Rep. Quayle, with more and more joining them as the day progressed. The most entertaining response came from Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa. At the end of the day, we noted that 8-million people had looked up their Representatives' information with Wikipedia's tool, and posted a gallery of all the blackout screens. Senator Ron Wyden, long-time opponent of the bills, thanked the internet but noted that the work was not yet done.
The reaction continued strong into the next day, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for the bill to be dropped all four GOP candidates for the 2012 election said no to SOPA and PIPA. But the most telling responses came from the industries that pushed the bills to begin with: Hollywood studio execs expressed pretty blatant anger at the fact that the government wouldn't stay bought, and the MPAA straight-up threatened politicians who wouldn't stick to its agenda. The RIAA, meanwhile, just condescended to the internet.
On Friday, staunch supporter Marsha Blackburn conceded that it was time to scrap SOPA, and by the end of the day the internet had won: the bills were both listed as "delayed" and both Harry Reid and Lamar Smith announced that they would no longer move forward with them. We analyzed a long interview with Chris Dodd to explain why the industry's approach failed, and then began focusing on what comes next.
But there was no need to look far, because for all the significance of the victory, SOPA/PIPA were also a prime example of winning the battle not being the same as winning the war. Not only did the Supreme Court choose the blackout day to issue the Golan ruling that allowed works to be yanked back out of the public domain — on Thursday, in the midst of SOPA/PIPA chaos, the DOJ went ahead and unilaterally seized and shut down Megaupload and arrested many of the principles, including Kim Dotcom.
They didn't need SOPA to do it. They didn't need anything to do it. Much like the seizures of Dajaz1 and Rojadirecta, they didn't even appear to need especially solid legal footing: at least, they took a whole lot of questionable things as evidence of criminal activity. Some artists like Busta Rhymes spoke out in defence of the site (it being an extremely useful distribution tool) — and then Anonymous struck back with widespread DDoS attacks on entertainment industry websites, prompting some nonsensical free speech complaints from the MPAA and suspicions that the DoJ might have provoked Anonymous on purpose.
As we now know, the arrest of Kim Dotcom was just the beginning of another long fight about the overreach of the US government and the influence of the entertainment industry thereon — and we know that's not the only example of a continued war against the supporters of free culture and an open internet. The internet should still take time to remember and celebrate the defeat of SOPA though, if only because we're almost certainly going to have to do the same thing again, and again, and again...