SOPA, PIPA Protest Boosted Awareness, Forced Congress to Shift Support

The online blackout by Wikipedia, Reddit and other sites drew so much public comment and criticisms of the SOPA and PIPA legislation that several members of Congress publicly abandoned the bills.

The voluntary Internet blackout, in which approximately 7,000 sites, including online encyclopedia Wikipedia, made their sites inaccessible to protest Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act generated a lot of discussion online and convinced several lawmakers to reconsider their support for the controversial bills.

To protest the bills, Wikipedia announced a 24-hour long site blackout on Jan. 18 in which only pages related to SOPA and PIPA would be accessible on the English language version of the encyclopedia. Social link aggregators Reddit and BoingBall took their sites down altogether. Several other sites, including Google and Mozilla, posted links to petitions and marked up the site in some way to show their opposition to the bills.

Approximately 162 million people came to Wikipedia's blackout-specific landing page, according to Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia also claimed 8 million U.S. readers looked up their Congressional representatives on the site. The site had more visitors going to the main page in the first 12 hours of the blackout than it had over the comparable time period the day before, according to Mike Geide, a senior security researcher at Zscaler Research.

There was also a 75 percent increase in visits to the online encyclopedia's SOPA Initiative page and a 15 percent increase across related pages during the protest time period, Geide found.

"The Wikipedia blackout is over and the public has spoken," said Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia.

About 4.5 million people had signed Google's petition asking lawmakers to reject SOPA and PIPA by the end of the day, according to Google. Twitter reported 2.4 million SOPA-related posts on the micro-blogging site within the first 16 hours of the strike. The top five terms on Twitter were SOPA, Stop SOPA, PIPA, Tell Congress, and #factswithoutwikipedia.

At least 25,000 WordPress blogs had joined the strike by blacking out their blogs entirely, and an additional 12,500 had posted a "Stop Censorship" ribbon, popular blogging platform WordPress reported. Several Senate Websites, including one for PIPA supporter Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), were overwhelmed by the extra traffic.

The Stop Online Piracy Act is a bill designed to give copyright holders broad legal powers to go after sites selling or distributing counterfeit content by forcing Internet service providers to block access to the sites and other sites from linking to them. Currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, it is scheduled to resume markup in February. A similar bill in the Senate, Protect IP Act, was unanimously approved in May and is still expected to reach the Senate floor on Jan. 24. However, both bills have dropped the most controversial provision that would have required ISPs to modify Domain Name System records.

Major Internet companies, civil liberties groups and security experts are bitterly opposed to the bill for what they view as unnecessarily broad powers granted to intellectual property owners to target pirates and draconian measures that would stifle innovation and open communication on the Internet.

It's too soon to call the online demonstrations a success since the bills are still active in Congress. However, there clearly was an impact, as a number of Congressional lawmakers have publicly retracted their support for the bills, which until recently, had been considered to be on the fast track for approval.

So far, 18 senators who had supported PIPA, including seven co-sponsors, have withdrawn their support. Three SOPA co-sponsors, Reps. Tim Holden (D-Penn.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.), also announced they were no longer backing the bill.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) decided to withdraw his support from the bill he co-sponsored because Congress should avoid rushing to pass the bill that could have unintended consequences, according to his Facebook post titled "A Better Way to Fight the Online Theft of American Ideas and Jobs." It was important to stop online piracy while "simultaneously promoting" an open, dynamic Internet environment, Rubio said.

"After listening to the concerns on both sides of the debate over the Protect IP Act, it is simply not ready for prime time and both sides must continue working together to find a better path forward," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah.), another PIPA co-sponsor. Hatch and five other senators requested Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to delay the Jan. 24 vote on PIPA.

Despite all these defections, lead sponsor and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he remains committed to the bill.