But as the bills worked their way through the House and Senate, and appeared poised for the endgame debate early this year, a broad wave of opposition began to emerge, with digital rights advocates, civil liberties groups and many powerful tech companies protesting that the measures would create a dragnet that would ensnare legitimate companies, with a particularly harmful effect on startups. Some worried that popular social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter could be affected. Others protested that the bills would give powerful entertainment lobbies undue leverage over the Internet, with the inevitable effect of stifling innovation and free speech.
Perhaps a bit reductively, the debate turned on issues of censorship and old media vs. new. It also showcased the remarkable ability of a loose collective of concerned parties to use the Internet to coalesce their opposition into a show of strength that ultimately killed the bills. Companies like Google collected signatures to a petition, while sites like Wikipedia, Reddit and numerous others went dark for a day in protest against SOPA and PIPA. Co-sponsors withdrew support, as did prominent anti-piracy trade groups such as the Business Software Alliance.
In the end, with supporters fleeing in droves, the bills were tabled, and now even prominent backers like the MPAA acknowledge that they are effectively dead, though of course those same groups will continue to advocate for new mechanisms to defend their members' intellectual property rights.
Lawmakers of all stripes acknowledge that the policy landscape has not kept up with the rapid emergence of online threats from hackers and state-sponsored attackers at home and abroad. But consensus about how to address the challenge has been tough to come by.
Fault lines in the debate have included which government agency should take the lead in securing civilian government and private-sector networks, concerns over privacy and civil liberties protections, emergency powers for the president and, principally, the extent to which an executive agency should have regulatory authority over operators of critical digital infrastructure in the private sector.