Ralph Benko

Two years ago Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with).  There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.

This two-part column reveals an untold part of the story about how the bad guys were stopped last time.  And, if not stopped again, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.

The perversely named “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) itself may have been the most brazen attempted act of piracy in all recorded history.  Truth in Legislation would have required it to be named the “Ultimate Act of Online Piracy.”  Enactment effectively would have pirated the World Wide Web from a common space and converted it into the private preserve of the Big Entertainment Lobby.

The Plot to steal the Internet was foiled.  It was foiled by an “Irresistible Force” — public opinion, rallied by a twenty-something Freedom Fighter, Aaron Swartz, now dead.  This combined with an Immovable Object, the consciences of a tiny group of legislators. Together they — barely — defeated one of the meanest pieces of legislation in our lifetimes.

The “outside” story — of the late-rallying popular opposition — has been fairly extensively reported.  7,000 (some claimover 100,000) websites, including Wikipedia and other high traffic sites, were persuaded to close shop for a day.  Google draped its logo in black.  In the view of Harvard Law School professor, author, public intellectual, and co-creator of the Creative Commons Lawrence Lessig, “SOPA was stopped by the most important Internet campaign so far — lead by my (now dead) friend Aaron Swartz, and thousands of others.”

As the New York Times reported “’I think [stopping SOPA] is an important moment in the Capitol,’ said Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and an important opponent of the legislation. ‘Too often, legislation is about competing business interests. This is way beyond that. This is individual citizens rising up.’”


Ralph Benko

Ralph Benko, author of The Websters’ Dictionary: How to use the Web to transform the world. He serves as an advisor to and editor of the Lehrman Institute's thegoldstandardnow.org and senior advisor to the American Principles Project.
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