An unprecedented online protest against a Hollywood-backed copyright Bill may be working: some of its previous supporters in the US Congress are backing down.
"Imagine a world without free knowledge" reads Wikipedia's anti-SOPA protest page
(Screenshot by Luke Hopewell/CBSi)
The protest, which included a Wikipedia blackout and home page alerts at Google.com and Amazon.com, has prompted some senators contacted by CNET overnight to abandon their earlier enthusiasm for the Protect IP Act. A Senate floor vote is scheduled for 24 January.
"I'm withdrawing my co-sponsorship for the Protect IP Act," said Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.
Senator John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, "will be withdrawing his name as a co-sponsor" of Protect IP, his office told CNET.
In the House of Representatives, where the similar Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, will be voted on in a committee next month, support also appears to be weakening.
Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican who is listed as a SOPA sponsor, "reserves judgment on the final Bill", his office told CNET. "He's certainly not saying pass the Bill as-is — there are legitimate concerns in this Bill."
Wikipedia's English-language pages went completely black last night with a splash page saying "the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet" and suggesting that readers contact members of Congress. The blackout is intended to coincide with next week's Senate floor vote on Protect IP and a committee vote scheduled on the House version, called the Stop Online Piracy Act.
The home pages of Craigslist and Google feature exhortations to contact members of Congress and urge them to vote against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate version called Protect IP. Amazon.com and Yahoo's Flickr have also joined in. Craiglist's note read: "Corporate paymasters, KEEP THOSE CLAMMY HANDS OFF THE INTERNET!"
New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats who are Protect IP sponsors, sent CNET a joint statement saying: "While the threat to tens of thousands of New York jobs due to online piracy is real and must be addressed, it must be done in a way that allows the internet and our tech companies to continue to flourish." They said they believe "both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns".
A spokesperson for Protect IP sponsor Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said the volume of phone calls has been "significant". Cardin, who previously said he couldn't vote for the measure in its most recent form, is remaining a co-sponsor "so that he can actively participate in fixing flaws in the current Bill", she said.
Even some senators who are remaining sponsors are now doing so with markedly less enthusiasm.
"I'm hearing from South Dakotans on both sides of the issue," said Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat. "I've co-sponsored the Bill and plan to support cloture so we can continue the debate in a reasonable fashion. I will also be reaching out to Chairman Leahy and asking him to refine the Bill and work with stakeholders to ensure their concerns are heard as we move forward."
Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, will remain a co-sponsor. He'll vote to override a promised filibuster from Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, so "the Bill can be debated and improved".
A spokesperson for SOPA sponsor Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, told the Omaha World-Herald that SOPA isn't the solution. And Representative Ben Quayle, an Arizona Republican this week had his name removed from the official SOPA sponsor list.
Among the other websites that, in one way or another, have joined the blackout: Metafilter, the Consumer Electronics Association, BoingBoing, OpenDNS, WordPress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the internet's most popular dinosaur comic strip. Some physical protests are also planned.
SOPA, of course, represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the internet, especially offshore websites. It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, internet service providers and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical website effectively vanish. It's opposed (PDF) by many internet companies, users and civil liberties groups.
Senator Blunt, who withdrew his support overnight, also said: "upon passage of this Bill through committee, Senate Judiciary Republicans strongly stated that there were substantive issues in this legislation that had to be addressed before it moved forward. I agree with that sentiment. But, unfortunately, Senate Leader Harry Reid is pushing forward with legislation that is deeply flawed and still needs much work."
Senator Boozman added in a Facebook post that: "We should not rush to pass this Bill, rather we should be working to find another solution so that the epidemic of online piracy is addressed in a manner that ensures innovation and free speech is protected."
In one early sign that the blackouts and protests would have an effect, the MPAA yesterday characterised them as "stunts". The group's chairman, Chris Dodd, took a thinly veiled swipe at Wikipedia by denouncing the protests (PDF) as "an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on [the sites] for information and [who] use their services". News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter to offer similar thoughts.
Despite weakening support for the controversial anti-piracy Bills, however, Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary committee, said yesterday that he expects the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act to resume sometime next month.
"To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property," Smith said in a statement, "we will continue to bring together industry representatives and [members of Congress] to find ways to combat online piracy."
Smith suggested that further debate in the US House of Representatives over the Bill, which is designed to speed up the legal process involved with getting an accused foreign-based pirate site taken offline, would be sparked by related "retreats" members of Congress who are scheduled to attend over the next two weeks.