Dozens of Republican and Democrat Members of Congress voiced there opposition to two anti-piracy bills on Wednesday during the largest online protest in history. Even some lawmakers who had co-sponsored the legislation announced they would now vote against it.
Thousands of sites joined in a blackout protest on Wednesday against the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA). Some sites, like Wikipedia, completely shut down and displayed only message urging people to oppose the bills. Other sites, like Google, continued functioning normally but put up a black background and predominately displayed their opposition to the bills.
(Raw Story also participated in the blackout protest from 8am to 8pm.)
The Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry’s largest lobby and one of the biggest supporters of the legislation, said on Tuesday that the protest was a dangerous gimmick.
While Internet activists and professionals have stated their opposition to both bills, SOPA is seen as the most egregious of the two because it defines an "infringing site" as any site that is "committing or facilitating" copyright infringement, including sites that merely provide information about online piracy.
"The blacklist bills are dangerous: if made into law, they would hamper innovation, kill jobs, wreak havoc on Internet security, and undermine the free speech principles upon which our country was founded," the digital advocate group Electronic Frontier Foundation said. "But deep-pocketed lobbyists are trying to ram this legislation through as quickly as possible, hoping elected officials will turn a blind eye to the widespread opposition to these bills. We can’t let that happen."
Both bills would also grant broad immunity to Internet service providers that voluntarily blocked sites for alleged piracy, as long as the companies acted "in good faith."
Senate reaction to blackout protest
PIPA is scheduled to be voted on next week in the Senate.
"While we should protect American intellectual property, consumer safety and human rights, we should do so in a manner that specifically targets criminal activity," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said in a statement. "This extreme measure stifles First Amendment rights and Internet innovation."
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said PIPA would "inflict too heavy a burden on third-party non-infringing entities and could do serious harm to one of the last vestiges that is relatively free from government regulation, the Internet."
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said he had sponsored PIPA because he agreed with the original intent of this bill, but announced he now opposed it because substantive issues in the "flawed" legislation had not been addressed. Likewise, Sen. John Boozman (R-AK) announced he was withdrawing his sponsorship of the bill because he received "overwhelming" feedback from his constituents and now believed the legislation had "damaging unintended consequences."
"Given the legitimate vocal concerns, it is imperative that we take a step back to allow everyone to come together and find a reasonable solution," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said as he announced he was also withdrawing his sponsorship of the bill.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also withdrew his sponsorship of the bill.
The most vocal opposition came from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who went so far as to say he would filibuster the bill.
"These bills enable the government to shut down websites that it deems guilty of violating copyright laws," he said in a statement. "While we support copyright protections, we are also concerned about websites being shut down without their day in court, and making innocent third parties bear the costs of solving someone else's problems."
"I will not sit idly by while PIPA and SOPA eliminate the constitutionally protected rights to due process and free speech," Paul added. "For these reasons, I have pledged to oppose, filibuster and do everything in my power to stop government censorship of the Internet."
Meanwhile, the author of the bill, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), insisted that PIPA was being misrepresented by its critics. He defended the legislation, saying it only applied to sites entirely dedicated to online piracy and would not affect sites like Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Google, craigslist, eBay, The Huffington Post or Yahoo.
"Much of what has been claimed about the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act is flatly wrong and seems intended more to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions," Leahy said. "The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect Reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use. A foreign rogue website is clearly defined as one that has no real purpose other than infringement."
House reaction to blackout protest
Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author of SOPA, said that the markup of the bill would resume in February. On Tuesday, he accused Wikipedia of "spreading misinformation" about the bill by joining the blackout protest.
"The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites," Smith claimed. "This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy."
He could not have been very pleased with Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), who joined in the protest herself by temporarily blacking out her site.
"History is being made by the more than 10,000 websites that have chosen to boycott SOPA by participating in today's blackout," she said in a statement.
"Members of Congress need to hear about the consequences of SOPA, and when they do, they'll learn of the serious consequences to the Internet the bill poses," Eshoo added. "It's time to pull up the emergency brake on this legislation."
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) also joined the protest by blacking out his Facebook Page.
“For the last two decades, the Internet has been an engine of economic growth and an unsurpassed medium for free speech. People have used the Internet to change the way we do business and to bring down oppressive regimes,” said Amash. “I will do everything in my power to stop the federal government from meddling with our right to free speech on the web.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) temporarily black out his Congressional website as well.