The privacy bill: Web activists trump Hollywood

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Legislation giving the U.S. Justice Department and entertainment companies sweeping powers to combat intellectual piracy has, for the moment, been consigned to Davy Jones’ Locker.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chief sponsor of the Stop Intellectual Piracy Act (SOPA) pulled the plug on a scheduled markup and said he would “wait until three is wider agreement” before trying again.

Blocking the legislation is a victory for activists who mounted a massive protest across the Internet on Wednesday.

It engaged big players like Wikipedia and Google — worried at the power to shut down websites — but also local activists like Seattle’s Dorsol Plants, who substituted an anti-SOPA message for his Facebook picture.

“Citizens and grassroots activists led, the Internet companies followed: Prior to the protests, the number of people who knew about this legislation was very, very small,” said Andrew Villeneuve, director of the Redmond-based Northwest Progressive Institute, which made its website go black during Wednesday’s protest.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed, D-Nevada, called off a vote, scheduled for next Tuesday, to cut off debate on a Senate version of the bill, called the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The abrupt halt is remarkable in that the anti-piracy legislation was backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation,  Disney and other major players in the broadcast/entertainment industry. TV news anchors spent much of the week speaking disclaimers on how their corporate parents were lobbying for the legislation.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was an original critic of SOPA and PIPA, as part of a small, ideology-spanning band of senators — Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rand Paul, R-Ken., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

“We can’t afford to rush an Internet policy that could trample on our innovation economy,” Cantwell said Friday.  “This week, the American people clearly spoke — and their voices were heard. Thank you to the thousands of Washingtonians who raised your voices this week to support an open and free Internet.”

The White House voiced reservations a week ago. The four Republican  presidential candidates, during a Thursday night debate, described the  legislation as too broad and said they would oppose it.

Sponsors of the legislation were not happy.

“The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.

The influential website Politico saw emergence of a new power player in Wednesday’s remarkable protest:

“After getting panned on the Web, Hollywood’s blockbuster anti-piracy  bill imploded like a box-office bomb this week — and Washington  realized the Internet’s “series of tubes” now may have more clout than  the vaunted motion picture and music industries.”

It was Alaska’s late Sen. Ted Stevens, as chairman of the Senate  Commerce Committee, who referred to the Internet as a “series of tubes.”

Cantwell, Wyden, and Moran are sponsoring a less intrusive  alternative called the OPEN Act. It provides for International Trade  Commission investigation of cases of digital piracy. Websites found to  be “willfully” and “primarily” infringing on copyright materican could  be shut down. A “transparent and adversarial process,” in Cantwell’s  words, would be created.