Online protests of anti-piracy legislation rock the establishment

This week’s internet community protests against congressional anti-piracy legislation was monumental. In a crucial election year- as Congress already faces unprecedented public disgust- they couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time.

Wednesday’s protests against the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) made headlines for facilitating deep citizen engagement. The tangible results are based on reliable online metrics and not on a controlled sample.

The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the activity that resulted Wednesday. During Wikipedia’s 24-hour blocked access period, 8 million U.S. readers interacted with the site’s prompt to look up congressional representatives. At least 4.5 million people signed Google’s petition about the two bills. Twitter’s user base sent 2.4 million issue-related tweets in the demonstration’s first 16 hours, and 25,000 WordPress blogs blacked out their blogs.  Additionally, over 500,000 people “liked” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s online post addressing the matter, and over 51,000 signed the White House’s online petition asking President Barack Obama to veto the legislation.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio announced  his reversed stance and urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid not to rush it to the Senate floor. Joining Rubio in opposition now are Sens. Orrin Hatch, John Boozman, and Roy Blunt. In the House, Texas Congressman Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of the bill in the House, will still move forward with some form of the legislation.

Not going down without a fight, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ripped those who darkened their respective internet web sites during Wednesday’s protest.

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today,” said Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the MPAA.

Dodd, also a former United States Senator from Connecticut, accused protestors of distorting truth and of caring more for their own interests.

“It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests,” he said.

Within a short period, the political establishment was shaken. Attention brought to the issue locked more voters-regardless of political affiliations- into knowing the identity of their DC representatives and what exactly they’re doing on the taxpayer dime. While the ordeal over SOPA and PIPA isn’t over, it’s a partial victory for the internet industry and citizens-led movement.

For legislation affecting other industries at some point in time, the SOPA and PIPA protests provide a model for them to emulate. Ultimately, it’s the unfiltered, mobilizing nature of the net that allows niche industries to energize real-world advocates to hold members of Congress responsible for their actions.