Today was supposed to be the day the Senate was to hold a cloture vote on controversial legislation to curb online piracy, but last week’s massive Internet protests prompted lawmakers to rethink their plans.


 

Advocates of a free and open Internet are celebrating a major victory.


Today was supposed to be the day the Senate was to hold a cloture vote on controversial legislation to curb online piracy, but last week’s massive Internet protests prompted lawmakers to rethink their plans.


At least 75,000 websites, including online heavyweights such as Wikipedia, Reddit and MoveOn.org, went dark for 24 hours on Jan. 18 to call attention to the censorship threat posed by the Senate’s Protect IP Act PIPA and the House of Representatives’ own version of the bill, called the Stop Online Piracy Act.


Google, the most popular search engine in the world, stayed active but covered its logo with a black box and added the message “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the Web!” Clicking on the message link then took users to a page where they could read about the company’s concerns regarding the legislation — and where they could also sign an online petition, if they so chose. Seven million people in the U.S. opted to add their signatures, according to Google.


Other sites also posted messages and urged consumers to contact their lawmakers, which protest organizers say resulted in 3 million emails being sent to members of Congress. And Twitter reports that 2.4 million SOPA/PIPA-related tweets were sent out between midnight and 4 p.m. on the day of the protests.


Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced the PIPA vote would be delayed in the wake of what organizers call the largest online protest in history. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, quickly followed Reid’s lead and killed SOPA.


However, the fight is likely far from over. Major proponents of PIPA and SOPA, including the entertainment industry, pharmaceutical companies and other business industry groups, say intellectual property theft and the sale of counterfeit products cost them billions of dollars each year. I expect they will continue to devote their considerable resources and lobbying muscle to reviving these efforts on Capitol Hill.


I can even understand their frustration. Having someone take credit for someone else’s work, or make money off of it, is not right. My columns have frequently been posted on sites that do not have permission to do so –– perhaps the most memorable was when it was brought to my attention that a piece I wrote about then-Supreme Court justice nominee Elena Kagan had appeared on a number of pornography sites. The reason why still eludes me, and I imagine anyone on those sites who happened across it quickly moved on to more, ahem, titillating offerings.


The problem, however, is the way these bills were written. Those involved clearly had little to no technological know-how, by their own admissions, so allowing them to draft legislation aimed at keeping high-tech piracy at bay is a bit like asking me to step in and pitch for the Chicago Cubs during Game 7 of the World Series.


“We really need people at the table who have the technical expertise about these issues, who can ensure that whatever bills are drafted have airtight, technically sound language, definitions and frameworks,” Erik Martin, Reddit.com general manager, told Reuters.


Seeking out experts when one is out of his or her depth seems like common sense to me, especially when writing legislation that will impact the entire country. But then again, common sense is one of many things the current Congress doesn’t seem to have an abundance of these days.


City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com.