Late last week, thousands of websites "went dark" (or at least gave the appearance of blacking themselves out) to protest SOPA and PIPA, the controversial legislative bills that critics say would damper creativity and promote excessive online censorship.
So it seemed like a victory for the many start-ups and tech companies protesting the proposed legislation when, on Friday, SOPA and PIPA's lead sponsors decided to revise the bills and delay a vote.
"I have heard from the critics, and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," SOPA's lead sponsor, Texas Representative Lamar Smith, said in a statement. "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."
Senator Ron Wyden, one of most outspoken critics to the bills, told The Washington Post "What we've seen over the last few weeks from the grassroots is a time for the history books."
And though the shelving of SOPA was certainly a major battle victory the bill's critics, the war is far from over.
"In truth, SOPA and PIPA will only remain six feet under until they inevitably reach mud-crusted hands out of their graves with newfound rhetoric and support," noted one blogger. "We haven't won just yet, but the tide of battle is most certainly turning."
"We haven't won just yet, but the tide of battle is most certainly turning."
—Nathan Grayson, PCGamer
The bill's advocates will now go back to the drawing board, but details are still murky on what changes they plan to make.
Bobby Scott, a congressman from Virginia, says no one really knows what will happen next. "Well, we don't know what we're going to be voting on," he told AMU Radio. "They're going to be bringing up another bill and continuing."
SOPA's proponents argued the bill's intention was to curb flagrant online piracy of copyrighted material. But because the bill would allow the U.S. Attorney General the power to take down sites merely accused of privacy, technology advocates and Internet entrepreneurs saw the potential legislation as a gateway to surefire censorship. In short: It would enable Hollywood and the music industry to crush growing start-ups (and even established online media properties) of using potentially pirated material.
Last week, when content trafficker Megaupload.com was seized and its founder arrested, SOPA’s detractors raised up an interesting question: Why do we need SOPA in the first place? According to the law, the FBI is allowed to act to shut down sites "overwhelmingly dedicated to piracy"—even those operating outside the U.S.—so some are saying it's curious that SOPA would be necessary legislation in the first place.
There is a now a third option on the table that some entrepreneurs and Web companies are embracing: The OPEN Act, a new bill sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa, the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"OPEN is a targeted, effective solution to the problem of foreign, rogue Web sites stealing from American artists and innovators," Issa, a California Republican, said in a statement. "OPEN is a smarter way to protect taxpayers' rights while protecting the Internet."
The primary difference between OPEN and SOPA is that the bill calls on the International Trade Commission—not the Justice Department—to fight online piracy. In other words, it has significantly less legal firepower, and unsurprisingly, SOPA's sponsor doesn't think OPEN is strong enough.
"The OPEN Act makes the Internet even more open to foreign thieves that steal America's technology and intellectual property without protecting U.S. businesses and consumers," Lamar Smith said in a statement.
Still, the bill is gaining traction. OPEN has received support from Web companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as 24 congresspeople and four senators.
"As written, SOPA and PIPA would jeopardize online freedom and grant corporations and the federal government unprecedented power to censor the Internet," noted Rep. Peter DeFazio, a congressman from Oregon. "I support the OPEN Act because it targets the people breaking the law without threatening the freedom of every other Internet user."