Online community Reddit driving opposition to piracy bill

Members of Congress and their staff have grown used to scouring the Web, Twitter and Facebook to see where voters stand before finalizing their positions. But the heated debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has turned the social news website Reddit into an unlikely rallying point for opponents of the bill.

"[SOPA] would kill Reddit," Reddit general manager Erik Martin told The Hill. "We're a platform so normally we would not take a stand on any political issue but this one would end our ability to run the site."

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The website where users submit and vote for links has a proven track record launching online memes and viral videos, but the specter of SOPA has turned the community's attention squarely toward Washington. The results have been eye-opening for Washington and Silicon Valley alike.

SOPA would empower the government and copyright holders to obtain court orders forcing search engines, domain name registrars and other Web firms to sever ties with foreign websites deemed rogue. The bill has strong support from the content industries, which argue foreign piracy is sapping revenue and costing the nation jobs.

But the technology community has struck back fiercely, arguing the bill would stifle innovation and eventually restrict free speech. Last week a protest thread started on Reddit against the domain name registrar GoDaddy prompted a large-scale boycott of the firm, forcing GoDaddy to reverse its support for the bill and trumpet the news.

The boycott and most of the other organizing efforts currently underway on Reddit are organic, driven by the grassroots community of loyal users that dictate which stories top the site's feed. But Reddit, owned by Conde Nast parent company Advanced Publications, has joined Tumblr, Mozilla and other Web firms in declaring open opposition to SOPA.

Martin said the site's users are solidly opposed to SOPA and in turn Reddit has encouraged them to contact their members of Congress and watch the Judiciary Committee's hearings on the bill online. He said the hearings helped users realize "how willfully ignorant a lot of the people were about the technology involved and about the effects of the law." 

Martin said the hearings also helped users realize SOPA is not a partisan issue, since there are supporters and opponents on both sides of the aisle. Users have now turned their attention to the White House, boosting a petition urging President Obama to veto the bill past the required number of signatures to merit an official response, and are targeting members of Congress that support SOPA.

Martin believes the cumulative effect of all the online protests will eventually be enough to halt SOPA's progress and said the scale of the movement is much larger than efforts on the site to support President Obama and Ron Paul in 2008.

"This definitely the first time we've seen something like this, that's been written about in the national headlines daily," Martin said. "Reddit was much smaller [in 2008], a different animal.

Martin said Reddit is supportive of the alternative online piracy bill offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) dubbed the OPEN Act. He said consultations with legal experts and what can be gleaned from the text suggest to Reddit that OPEN is a more sensible, targeted solution to attacking online piracy.

This post was updated Sunday at 12:40 p.m.