Congressional leaders agreed to postpone and rework two controversial anti-piracy bills on Friday, dealing a devastating blow to the legislation's supporters and a thrilling victory to its opponents.
Just a few weeks ago, the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) were on the fast track to approval. The bills had powerful interest groups fighting for them and rare bipartisan support in Congress.
But an unprecedented protest Wednesday involving thousands of websites sparked an explosion of opposition, and lawmakers quickly retreated.
The debate over online piracy isn’t over, but some clear winners and losers emerged from this week's dramatic showdown.
Google — Google has helped rewrite the rules on political advocacy. The Web giant strongly opposed the piracy legislation, with company chairman Eric Schmidt going as far as to compare the measure to how China censors political speech. Google used traditional lobbying tactics, such as meeting with lawmakers, to make its case. But it was the company's dramatic participation in Wednesday's Web protest that helped beat back the piracy bills.
The search giant covered its iconic logo with a black censorship bar. Users who clicked on the bar were redirected to a petition urging Congress to oppose the legislation because it would "censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American businesses." Seven million users signed the petition in a single day.
Tens of millions of Americans use Google everyday, and the successful protest proved the company could leverage its high-visibility to achieve its political goals. Lawmakers will have the protest in mind the next time they think of going up against the Web giant.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — The former chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association was the leading opponent of the tough anti-piracy law in the House.
When Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) tried to bring the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to a vote on his panel last month, Issa and other opponents offered dozens of amendments, dragging the markup on for days. Smith was forced to postpone the bill until Congress returned from its holiday recess, a delay that gave the bill's opponents the time they needed to mobilize against it.
Issa is now pushing his alternative anti-piracy bill, OPEN, which is much friendlier to Web companies.
Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenLobbyists turn to infrastructure law's implementation Democrats plow ahead as Manchin yo-yos Overnight Energy & Environment — House passes giant climate, social policy bill MORE (D-Ore.) — For months, Wyden was a crusader against the piracy bill in the Senate. He was prepared to wage a filibuster on the Senate floor by reading thousands of names from a petition opposing the legislation. It seemed like a lonely stand until the Web protest pushed dozens of senators to his side.
Reddit — The quirky discussion board and news aggregator caught the attention of Washington. It was the first major site to announce that it would blackout in protest of the piracy bills before other big names, such as Wikipedia, joined in.
The site's followers mobilized against Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' MORE (R-Wis.) when they mistakenly believed he supported SOPA. Ryan had not yet taken a position on the bill, but Reddit's campaign spurred him to come out against it. In recent days, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) have gone on the site to answer questions and participate in discussions.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) — The Judiciary chairman was the author of SOPA and its most vocal supporter. Smith’s announcement on Friday that he would not push ahead with the bill was a stunning acknowledgment of defeat after he had accused his opponents of “spreading lies.” He called SOPA's critics a "vocal minority" and claimed they couldn't point to a single provision that would harm legitimate websites or stifle free speech.
But when the Web protest unleashed an avalanche of voter anger, Smith's allies abandoned him in droves. Even Mitt Romney, whom Smith had endorsed for president over his home state's governor, Rick Perry, slammed SOPA in Thursday night's GOP debate, explaining he opposed it because he is "for freedom."
Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure Welch to seek Senate seat in Vermont MORE (D-Vt.) — The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman was the sponsor of the Protect IP Act in the Senate and shepherded the bill through his panel with unanimous support in May. Even after the Web backlash, he was deep in negotiations with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) to try to save the legislation. But the opposition of Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season MORE (R-Ky.) and other Republicans left Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidVoters need to feel the benefit, not just hear the message Schumer-McConnell dial down the debt ceiling drama Mellman: Are independents really so independent? MORE (D-Nev.) little choice but to abandon the bill.
"The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem," a frustrated Leahy said Friday.
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — The lobbying arm for Hollywood studios has long advocated action against foreign websites that offer illegal copies of movies. Passing legislation to block those foreign sites is the group's top goal, and it hired former senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) as chairman to help with the pursuit. But Dodd's influence and close ties with lawmakers were not enough to save the legislation.
Chamber of Commerce — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the powerful business lobby, made passing anti-piracy legislation one of its top priorities. Not only did it fail to achieve that goal, but it might have alienated some of its members in the process. Although movie studios, record labels and other copyright holders supported the measures, Google and other tech companies were outraged that they were paying dues to a group lobbying against their interests. Yahoo left the Chamber over the issue, and other Silicon Valley giants, including Google, reportedly considered leaving as well.
President Obama — The president pleased Internet activists and tech companies when his administration released a statement last Saturday expressing concerns with the piracy bills. The administration said it would oppose any legislation that "reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines" the Internet. The statement showed the White House understood the fears of the legislation's critics, but the officials were careful to emphasize their support for giving law enforcement officials new tools to go after foreign websites that pirate media content.
Silicon Valley executives donated heavily to Obama's 2008 campaign, and will be a critical base of support for his reelection bid. By wading into the piracy debate, Obama validated their support and could boost enthusiasm for his campaign. But he also disappointed Hollywood, which has also been one of his party’s most important allies.
Movie studio chiefs said they were disappointed, and one executive told Deadline.com he will not "give a dime anymore" to Obama. Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch, who has never been much of an Obama fan, accused the president of throwing in his "lot with Silicon Valley paymasters.”