Google co-founder Sergey Brin warned that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act “would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world.” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Twitter co-founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman argue that the bills give the Feds unacceptable “power to censor the Web.”
But these companies have yet to put action behind their words.
When the home pages of Google, Amazon, Facebook and their Internet allies go black with anti-censorship warnings that ask users to contact politicians about their votes on SOPA, you’ll know they mean business.
“There have been some serious discussions about that,” says Markham Erickson, who heads the NetCoalition trade association that counts Google, Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo as members. “It has never happened before.”
Web firms may be outspent tenfold on lobbyists, but have the advantage of direct relationships with users as opposed to the SOPA-backing Hollywood studios and record labels.
Protect IP and SOPA supposedly represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the RIAA, and their allies to counter what they see as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org. It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet providers, and other companies forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site vanish, a kind of Internet death penalty.
There are early signs that the nuclear option is seriously being contemplated. Wikimedia (as in Wikipedia) called SOPA an “Internet Blacklist Bill.” Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has proposed an article page blackout as a way to put “maximum pressure on the U.S. government” in response to SOPA. Micro-blogging site Tumblr has generated 87,834 calls to Congress over SOPA.
A message appearing on the screens of people living in the mostly rural Texas district of SOPA author Lamar Smith, Hollywood’s favorite Republican, asking them to call or write and voice their displeasure, couldn’t possibly go unnoticed. If Tumblr could generate nearly 90,000 calls on its own, think of what companies with hundreds of millions of users could do.
If these Web companies believe what their executives say (PDF) about SOPA and Protect IP, they’ll let their users know what their elected representatives are contemplating. A Senate floor debate scheduled for January 24, 2012 would be an obvious starting point.
“The reason it hasn’t happened is because of the sensitivity,” says Erickson, “even when it’s a policy issue that benefits their users.” He adds: It may happen.”
It may, it may not but it would definitely change politics if it did.