Legitimate Concerns of Millions Should Not Be Dismissed

The industries that supported PIPA and SOPA continue to chalk up the massive online blacklash to a top-down misinformation campaign orchestrated by the likes of Google and Wikipedia. As CDT wrote a couple of weeks ago, this caricature of the unprecedented online opposition to the bills reflects a fundamental failure to grasp what actually happened. CDT President Leslie Harris recently reflected on the real lessons of the whole affair in her column for ABC News.

Focusing solely on the role large companies played during the strike conveniently glosses over the legions of engineers, Internet inventors, legal experts, public interest and advocacy groups, think tanks, international human rights groups, artists, unions, VCs, bloggers, editorials boards, websites and educators that opposed the bills well before Google and Wikipedia altered their homepages on January 18th.

As for the public at large, over two months before the online strike, CDT had identified over a dozen different online resources in which hundreds of thousands of people were expressing opposition to SOPA.

And just this week, CDT was one of 70 diverse groups that signed a letter to Congress reiterating our opposition to PIPA and SOPA and recommending it was time “to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective.”

So no, Google and Wikipedia were not the only ones behind the opposition—not by a long shot. As Harris’s recent column explains:

[The] protest was neither orchestrated nor controlled by Google or anyone else, nor, given the Internet’s lack of a “leader,” could it be.

Rather, the protest was decentralized and organic. The tsunami of opposition transcended political divides, with extensive participation from individuals and groups on both the left and the right. It was driven by a commonality of interest in the continued vitality of social networking and “user-generated content” sites – an interest broadly and actively shared by both rank-and-file Internet users and the technology innovation community.

Neither opponents nor proponents can deny that, at times during this debate, some on their side engaged in some pretty heated rhetoric. But ignoring all the substantive objections about PIPA/SOPA—coming from the likes of Sandia National Labs and respected Internet engineers such as Steve Crocker, David Dagon, Dan Kaminsky, Danny McPherson, and Paul Vixie, no less—seems downright dangerous.

For a sober overview of the concerns about these bills, I recommend watching CDT Senior Policy Counsel David Sohn’s debate with Viacom General Counsel Michael Fricklas on TechCrunch TV (Part I, Part II, Part III). Or, read one of the op-eds CDT has written for The Atlantic, Index on Censorship, The Daily Beast, ABC News, US News & World Report, and CNN. There’s certainly no want of information on the serious damage these bills could incur for the open Internet.

It’s also important to recall the rightful indignation people had in mid-December, as they watched members of the House Judiciary Committee profess their ignorance of the technological aspects of SOPA at the bill’s markup, only to say they still hoped to pass it in its current form. This was preceded by a stacked hearing—the only one on SOPA—in which five witnesses were in favor of the bill, and a lone witness, a lawyer for Google, was opposed. The process was so obviously skewed—and some Committee Members so misinformed—that during the markup Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) declared [VIDEO]:

We’re going to do surgery on the Internet, and we haven’t had a doctor in the room tell us how we’re going to change these organs. We’re basically going to reconfigure the Internet and how it’s going to work, without bringing in the nerds. Without bringing in the doctors […] And to my colleagues, I would say, if you don’t know what DNSSEC is, you don’t know what you’re doing.

So in addition to the substantive concerns about the harm these bills could cause, there was legitimate frustration over a legislative process that seemed designed to avoid serious consideration of dissent. Continuing to blithely dismiss the objections to PIPA and SOPA seems a poor way for the legislation’s supporters to try to renew the discussion on how to counter online piracy.

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