from the not-over-yet dept
On October 26th, I was flying from San Francisco to Washington DC to meet with folks in the House of Representatives to explain why they should be careful about making the same mistakes as the Senate with its anti-piracy bill, PROTECT IP (PIPA). We had been assured by Rep. Bob Goodlatte that Congress had heard the myriad complaints about PIPA and that the House version would take them into account. Instead, as the plane I was on flew over the Rocky Mountains, I started getting a flood of emails from people sending me the first release of the House’s version of the bill, now known as SOPA (originally, the E-PARASITE bill, a name they dropped immediately when everyone started mocking it). Thanks to the wonderful innovation of WiFi-in-the-sky, I was able to sit in my cramped seat, read the bill, and write up my horrified post explaining just how much worse SOPA was than PIPA (an already disastrous bill).
The next day, October 27th, a small group of entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and creators spent the day meeting with members of Congress to express our concerns about the bill (which we’d just seen the afternoon before), as well as the whole approach to the crafting of both bills. The one thing we heard over and over again that day: “well this is the first time we’ve heard anything about this from the internet community.”
I think it’s safe to say that’s no longer the case.
As I type this, I’m taking that same flight, preparing for my debate tomorrow over these bills against an MPAA representative and a US Chamber of Commerce representative, I’m sitting in that same cramped seat (actually, I think I’m on the opposite side of the plane), and thinking just how far we’ve come in just three and a half months.
Make no mistake: when the Senate introduced PIPA in May, it was widely assumed that this bill, and any companion bill would sail through Congress easily. Sure, some “tech-friendly” officials may express some concerns, but, as one lobbyist told me directly, “no one takes you people seriously anyway.” It was this kind of hubris that we saw throughout the year with these bills. We were told repeatedly to shut up and take it, because the bills were going to pass, Obama would sign them, and piracy would magically disappear.
Instead, a funny thing happened on the way to the death of the internet: the internet woke up. While folks online may be political, it’s not often that they truly get activated over internet-related issues. But in an era of bottom-up movements facilitated online, the timing was absolutely right for the massive groundswell of support from all corners of the internet to suddenly speak out in near unison to say of these bills: DO NOT WANT.
Still more to do:
At this point, it’s impossible to deny that we, as a group, have had an impact. Contrary to the claims of some of the bill’s supporters, we showed that this isn’t just a “Google” issue. This is an internet issue. And we care about the internet and we care about innovation, and we’re not going to take it lightly when elected officials, who admit they don’t understand the technology, come along to say they’re going to mess with it, just because their biggest campaign donors don’t want to adapt to these wonderful new innovations.
But, not everyone in Congress has an understanding of what’s happening online. Even with Reps. and Senators backing away from the bills, and asking leadership to slow things down… and even with Rep. Smith and Senator Leahy trying to “delay” the DNS implementation in order to get the bills passed… some in Congress still think that the outcry is minor or limited or that it’s all Google.
That’s why Harry Reid intends to move forward with the bill, pretending that the complaints only come from Google and Facebook… and that they’re minor and easily fixed with a couple of amendments. I believe he’s misjudged the internet, just as many others in Congress have misjudged the internet over the last few months. The people speaking out are not just “Google and Facebook,” and they’re not just speaking out for the hell of it. They’re seriously pissed off at Congress for even thinking of going down this path in the first place, and simply killing the bills is unlikely to get the people online back on their side.
But there’s a bigger point in the “more to do” section of this post. This isn’t about one bill. This isn’t about one issue. This is about an entire process. This is about the public — not the big corporations — finally saying “enough is enough” and making Congress recognize that crony capitalism, where subsidies and protectionism are doled out willy nilly to favorite campaign contributors, is not acceptable to the people they’re supposed to represent.
This is about recognizing that the internet and the massive amount new innovation and services — and the worldwide ability to communicate with others — is a game changing innovation for everyone. And we’re going to work damn hard to make sure that it remains open and free.
But, to do that right, this is going to take much more than stopping one bill. This is going to take prolonged effort. This is going to take an ongoing effort to make it clear that no elected official can ever again feel comfortable bragging that they don’t understand the internet, as they seek to regulate it. This is about making it 100% crystal clear to those who seek to clamp down on the true engine of free expression — the internet — that we, the people, aren’t going to be fooled with bogus claims and bogus stats in an effort to limit this wonderful platform.
This isn’t over yet — not by a long shot. But just look at how far we’ve come in just three and a half months, and think what we’ll do in the next few months — and years — ahead. These bills tried to kill the “internet as we know it.” But, in some ways, these bills helped birth a new kind of internet: one that doesn’t let Congress screw it up without taking action.