SOPA/PIPA Taken Off the Table – For Now

In an extraordinary change of heart today, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has changed his mind about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – and the forces allied against it – and pulled his bill from consideration by the House Judiciary Committee indefinitely. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has canceled the Jan. 24 Senate vote on its version of the legislation, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

I applaud these reasoned actions, because now the conversation can shift to where it should be focused: on how to protect intellectual property intelligently. Nobody wants content to be pirated. As a creator of content myself, I most definitely want to be paid for my work. But there are better ways to do it than wiping out the Internet. After all, printing presses weren’t outlawed to stop libel. This is clearly a victory for those looking to preserve free speech and innovation on the Internet. However, the fight is far from over – for both sides. But without the threat of a flawed “fix” being rushed into law, all sides can work together to stop criminals.

It would appear undeniable that Wednesday’s mass online protest against SOPA and its sister bill PIPA – in which an estimated 75,000 websites were “blacked out” to simulate what could happen if the bills became law – had an effect. Before the protest, 80 members of Congress identified themselves as supporting the bills, while just 31 were willing to publicly oppose them. But on Thursday, those numbers had shifted to 122 members opposed and just 63 in favor. In the Senate, seven former co-sponsors of PIPA changed sides after listening to the will of the people.

As impressive as that turnaround was, the truly stunning development is that Smith has completely changed his attitude toward the opponents of the bills. Whereas he had previously dismissed any and all opposition as the work of alarmists based on fictional scare tactics, today he admitted that there is some legitimacy on the other side, saying:

“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy. It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

Senator Reid himself tweeted: “In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act #PIPA”

Check out this article on Digital Trends that breaks down the online protest by the numbers.

A special tip of the hat to my fellow WordPress.com bloggers, 25,000 of whom joined me in blacking out our personal blogs for the day. Thank you, WP, for making it so easy for us to let our voices be heard.

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