After the death of PIPA this morning comes the news that Lamar Smith, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee who planned on resuming the markup of SOPA, the House version of anti-piracy legislation, in February, has put the bill into cold storage. The work of the grassroots coalition did the trick: SOPA and PIPA are dead for now.
U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) announced today that the House Judiciary Committee, which he heads, “will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution.” Smith added that he has taken critics’ concerns “seriously.”
“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,” Smith said in today’s statement [...]
“The Committee will continue work with both copyright owners and Internet companies to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property,” Smith said. “We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem. The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.”
It must have killed Smith to put the stake through the heart of SOPA, considering his own staffers wrote the bill – right before becoming entertainment industry lobbyists.
We’re now going to move into the bargaining phase of this legislation, where everybody steps back and the same lobbyists who pushed for quick passage now play a long game of disarming the opposition with some fig leaf of a compromise. That’s what Chris Dodd wants to work out, what he calls a “dialogue” about protecting intellectual property. “With today’s announcement, we hope the dynamics of the conversation can change and become a sincere discussion about how best to protect the millions of American jobs affected by the theft of American intellectual property,” Dodd wrote. He even wants a meeting between leaders in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the same meeting that Bob Iger of ABC rejected when Dianne Feinstein tried to set it up. Earlier, Dodd indirectly threatened campaign contributions from Hollywood if they didn’t come up with anti-piracy legislation.
We know the game here. All the Democrats who welcome Hollywood checks talk about addressing concerns and “fixing” the bill, when they’re just trying to get it passed in some form to reward their contributors. In this case, that won’t work at the moment because there’s too much engagement on the issue. Maybe down the road the online energy will cool. This was the explicit strategy of the Chamber of Commerce, for lawmakers to allow the bill onto the floor, with the fixes to appease the tech industry done at that time. Zach Carter also reports there were backroom negotiations between Patrick Leahy and Jon Kyl on a manager’s amendment that would assuage all sides.
But as Ron Wyden says today in a triumphant interview with Greg Sargent, it’s a new day in Congress. The backroom deals collapsed because the people rose up.
“I talked to Senator Schumer last night, and I believe it’s going to be a new day in the Senate,” Wyden said. “What we’ve seen over the last few weeks from the grassroots is a time for the history books.” The win is a triumph over very powerful special interests, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major content providers, and big unions, who had supported the bills [...]
“We wouldn’t accept this enormous body blow to the architecture of the internet — a technological juggernaut for jobs, innovation, freedom of expression, and the like,” Wyden said. “Democratic progressive values are what the internet is all about. If you’re concerned about income equality or what Occupy Wall Street is talking about, the Internet is where you take on the moneyed interests. The Internet is the equalizer — the voice of the grassroots.”
“What has happened in the last few weeks will permanently change the way citizens communicate with their government,” Wyden concluded. “This is a new day.”
You can see that the lobbyists of the entertainment giants will still work tirelessly to get something passed that asserts their control over the Internet. But this episode does show that activism can work, at least to stop unpopular legislation. Maybe not all the time, but when a lot of energy is thrown into political engagement, sometimes it makes a big difference.