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This Week In Techdirt History: A SOPA Retrospective


Over the past couple of weeks in our look at 2011, SOPA began to rear its head. This week things really hit full steam, and so for this history post we’re going to focus just on what went down in the SOPA fight five years ago.

All eyes were on the upcoming House Judiciary Committee hearings, which were stacked 5 to 1 in favor of censoring the internet. Leading up to them, we pointed out how attempts at censorship in the UK demonstrated how SOPA would fail, that Silicon Valley hadn’t realized it was in DC’s crosshairs, and why all filmmakers should speak out against the bill. Soon, the chorus of voices opposed to SOPA (and its partner PROTECT-IP) began to grow at an astounding pace: Facebook, Twitter, eBay and other big internet companies spoke up, and were joined by over 100 lawyers and law professors and then hackers, the ACLU, consumer rights groups, and human rights groups; venture capitalists explained how it would break the internet, a study showed how it would chill innovation and investment, and the EFF warned about its regulation of VPNs, proxies and other privacy tools; Ron Paul joined the ranks of congressional opposition and Joe Biden explained why the bills were un-American; a study showed that the majority of Americans opposed SOPA, and even Canadians were speaking up, fearing collateral damage. And we featured voices ranging from filmmakers and technologists to health care activists explaining the damage SOPA would do.

How did the other side respond? First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams twisted himself in verbal knots explaining how SOPA would censor protected speech but somehow not violate the First Amendment; the House Judiciary Committee denied that its hearings were stacked in any way; Viacom made the absurd and hilarious threat that failing to pass SOPA might mean Spongebob Squarepants dies; and the bill’s congressional sponsors weakly tried to say it was going to protect the troops. Then the hearings got underway and were largely a SOPA love-fest, though a lot of Representatives expressed serious concerns.

Meanwhile, we still had more questions: how would we even guage SOPA’s success? Do you really want to give China and other oppressive regimes a blueprint for internet censorship? Following the hearings, even more people spoke up: the EU Parliament warned the US against censorship efforts, Nancy Pelosi called for a better solution, multiple Senators came out against PROTECT-IP, security experts warned against DNS filtering, and the Washington Post’s Dominic Basulto wrote an incredulous column about the message SOPA sends to the world. It even started to become a congressional election issue, with challengers calling out the SOPA support of incumbent representatives.

And amazingly, as we all now know, the protests had not yet even come close to their peak.

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