SOPA would essentially reverse the conditions set out by Congress in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1997. That legislation gave companies like Youtube and Facebook protection under “safe harbor.” If someone uploaded a copyrighted television show or music file to one of these sites, the copyright owner can file a claim to have it taken down. As long as these sites respond in a timely fashion, they were considered to have done their part.
Under the SOPA act, companies and the government have the new ability to force internet service providers, giants like AT&T and Verizon, to block access to certain domain names if those sites are thought to be hosting pirated content. It would also give copyright holders the ability to sue search engines, blogs and forums if they contain links to this copyrighted material. It would give corporations a powerful enforcement mechanism, by making it possible for them to demand that advertising networks and payment processors stop doing business with offending sites.
Mr. Wilson’s concern that opponents of the bill would go unheard turned out to be unfounded. Tumblr users who clicked on the redacted text they saw on America Censorship day were taken to a screen encouraging them to call Congress and protest. Tumblr is better known as a home for hilarious cat animations and underground mixtapes than a hotbed of political activism. But its irate users placed an astonishing 87,834 calls to Congress in the next 12 hours, averaging at one point 3.6 calls per second.
The internet was practically howling. A petition posted to the White House website from a user on Reddit quickly gathered more than 40,000 signatures. “This Bill would essentially allow a Great Firewall of America and would be a shameful desecration of free speech and any sort of reasonable copyright law,” it read. “Essentially it’s a censorship law that would end the Internet as we know it in America.”
But while the members of the House Judiciary Committee heard these voices loud and clear, they seemed more amused and annoyed than alarmed at the vast and vocal outcry. “To those who say that a bill to stop online theft will break the Internet, I would like to point out that it’s not likely to happen,” Rep. John Conyers (D.-Michigan) noted with a dry chuckle, at the opening of Wednesday’s SOPA hearing. “We’re getting a number of reactions from those in the tech sector who think this will strangle startups.”
The strident voices of Boing Boing and Hacker News seem to have backfired. This wasn’t the slick talk of K Street lobbying firms or the prepared testimony of well-heeled industry groups. It was the rage of Reddit, eventually boiling over into the mainstream press. To the Congressmen who crafted this legislation, it came across as childish and suspect.
Rep. Conyers pulled out a sheet of paper with an image of Godzilla on the front. “I reluctantly ask to put this into the record,” he said. “The attack of the internet killers. This is serious business. Don’t walk, run, tell Congress SOPA hreatens internet security.”
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) interjected. “Isn’t that a comic?”
“No this is serious,” Rep. Conyers replied, laughing. “We ought to know better.”