Stopping SOPA

By EDITORIAL  |  January 18, 2012

Which raises the question: where was the president's leadership three months ago? Still, given Obama's soft record on protecting civil liberties, his resistance to SOPA is a welcome change — and in an election year, the tech industry should remember that the president will need all the help he can get. The biggest gift they could give him is a redoubled effort to curb online piracy, which has helped to gut the music and film industries. The proposed bills are too vague and go too far, but their failure does not erase the need for creative and cooperative solutions to preventing blatant international piracy. The same small businesses that would have borne the brunt of SOPA and PIPA — the ones who cannot afford legal departments and collection agencies — are often the most vulnerable to IP theft, which reaches far beyond Hollywood movies and Top-40 pop hits.

The lesson of SOPA and PIPA, for people who care about and understand the Internet, has been that when it comes to regulating essential technological infrastructure, government is dumb, ineffectual, and dangerous. (Somewhere, an iPhone liberal is tweeting: "This must be how Republicans feel all the time!") The other lesson is this: had it not been for the grassroots and netroots activism that shone a bright light on the farce of a process that got us within a floor vote of Web-censorship Armageddon, we might be in a very dark place right now.

Ultimately, the future of Internet freedom will be only as stout as the populist movements that form to defend it. Syracuse University Internet scholar Milton Mueller puts it succinctly: "There can be no cyberliberty without a political movement to define, defend, and institutionalize individual rights and freedoms on a transnational scale." The time to build that movement is now.

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