SOPA and PIPA: What went wrong?

Everyone underestimated the impact of massive online protests in the debate over the two bills

By , IDG News Service |  Networking, PIPA, SOPA

Meanwhile, Smith, the lead sponsor of SOPA, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and lead sponsor of PIPA, attempted to railroad the bills through Congress. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced PIPA on May 12, and forced a committee vote on it two weeks later, without one public hearing dedicated to the bill. Leahy's spokeswoman noted that the issue of rogue foreign websites came up in several hearings over the past two years, but none focused on the bill exclusively.

Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, convened one hearing on SOPA, but the witness list was stacked in favor of the bill. Both lead sponsors hung on to the contentious ISP filtering provisions in the bills until earlier this month, when public outcry was starting to coalesce.

The old-politics approach didn't work in the face of a "public avalanche" of public opposition, even though some estimates had supporters of SOPA and PIPA outspending opponents by a 10-to-1 margin, said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group opposed to the bills.

"The strategy was to push a one-sided approach, ignore objections and rely on your well-financed friends on the Judiciary Committees simply to approve whatever you give them," Shapiro wrote in a blog post. "The overreach was so huge, the arrogance so large, the result so horrid, that they truly hurt their so-called friends. That's why the legislative process should have fair and balanced hearings."

Just the facts

Finally, supporters of the bills didn't convince the public about the facts.

Supporters of the bill, including Leahy, Smith and some trade groups, repeatedly complained about misinformation spread by the other side. There was plenty of misinformation to go around. Some opponents insisted the bills would "kill" the Internet, when that was an exaggeration.

But Smith and Leahy insisted there were no free speech problems with the bills, when many websites likely targeted by the bills have comment sections or other content protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And the MPAA's Dodd, appearing on the Morning Joe television show on the day of the Web protests, insisted there was no "private right of action," Washington code words for private lawsuits, in the bills.

Despite Dodd's claims, SOPA and PIPA would allow private copyright holders to file lawsuits forcing online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with accused websites.

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