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With Internet Companies In the Fight, Battle Over SOPA Legislation Continues This Week

BY Miranda Neubauer and Nick Judd | Monday, December 12 2011

Photo: ToGa Wanderings / Flickr

After a coalition of advocacy groups and Internet companies worked together to raise awareness about the Stop Online Piracy Act beginning Nov. 16, they are now gearing up for another push to online action this week as the House Judiciary Committee is expected to mark up the bill on Thursday.

The coalition, Fight for the Future, represents an unprecedented level of political involvement from companies like Tumblr. Nov. 16, when their push began in earnest, marks a watershed moment in the role of politics on the Internet, or maybe of the Internet in politics. That was the day when social companies, with fortunes rising or falling on the strength of protections like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor provisions or a robust judicial interpretation of fair use, decided to push what they viewed as an essential issue directly to the experience of users on their sites. Companies like DirecTV and Fox famously brief viewers on their sides of various negotiations and urge them to call the opposing party. That all happens in the context of television, a one-way medium. Internet companies interrupted their users' use of their sites with black "censorship" bars across key elements of their user interface, like Tumblr, for example, in order to grab attention and make a point. The call to action was much more interactive and immediate. It also demonstrated that the relationship between Internet businesses and government has fundamentally changed, and further developments in the SOPA saga will help us understand the extent of those changes.

"Driving people to take a political action is something that most — maybe all — of the participating sites had never done before," David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress and an organizer of the anti-SOPA coalition, told techPresident today in an email. "It came about through weeks and weeks of conversations about how best to mobilize people to fight the bill -- it represents a real existential threat to social networking sites, and so they're very motivated to push back."

In November, Mozilla had prominently displayed information about the previous hearing on its browser start page and encouraged users to contact Congress. Tumblr had "censored" its users' dashboards to call attention to provisions on the bill, fightforthefuture.org before the bill moves to the next phase. On iworkfortheinternet.org, users can post picture testimonials about how the Internet drives job growth, which SOPA opponents say the proposed bill would put at risk. Another tool on AmericanCensorship.org is supposed to let anyone redact portions of a tweet, Facebook post, or blog post, with a link back to the site to generate calls.

"Our goal is to kill this legislation in any form that is approximately similar to the way it currently stands," Segal told me today. He said that sites that participated last time would be joined by new sites with "household names" — he wouldn't say which ones — that had heard about the issue for the first time on the day of the hearing, and now feel "warmer" about participation following last month's day of action. People from Etsy, Kickstarter and Foursquare had been invited to a planning meeting for Fight for the Future over the weekend*.

One goal for the renewed push to action by SOPA opponents, he said, is to encourage as much communication to members of Congress as possible no matter what day the markup takes place.

On a blog on The Hill's Congress Blog today, Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Organizations, joins in the opposition:

As a representative of some of America’s most innovative companies, I have long fought against the legendary copyright lobby. But rarely in my 30 years of battle have I witnessed the copyright owners (Hollywood, the music industry, etc.) perform such a blatant power grab with a pair of bills moving through Congress today.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have proposed a legislative alternative to SOPA, called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. Called OPEN for short, it debuted on another first, a platform for public comment and markup of the bill that was created at Issa's behest.

This post was updated to include new information. When an earlier version was published, the date and time for markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act had not yet been announced.

Disclosure: PDM publisher Andrew Rasiej was at the weekend meeting of anti-SOPA activists mentioned in this story and is actively opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act.