In a huge victory for grassroots online organizing, the Senate Dem leadership announced this morning that it was indefinitely postponing votes on the PIPA bill — the companion to SOPA — in the wake of massive protests.
The next question: Does the Senate Dem leadership really understand that its approach was a major threat to what makes the Internet a democratic force and that it needed a complete overhaul?
I just got off the phone with Senator Ron Wyden, the primary driver of opposition to the bill within the Senate, and he confirmed that the leadership grasps the depth of the problems with its approach, and is ready to address them head on.
“I talked to Senator Schumer last night, and I believe it’s going to be a new day in the Senate,” Wyden said. “What we’ve seen over the last few weeks from the grassroots is a time for the history books.” The win is a triumph over very powerful special interests, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major content providers, and big unions, who had supported the bills.
Wyden and other opponents had three primary objections to the bills: They would have dramatically changed the domain name system, potentially tampering with the “architecture” of the internet, as Wyden puts it. They could have led to censorship, because they gave the U.S. Attorney General the power to seek court orders to take down web sites accused of piracy. And they could have created a legal quagmire within which big content companies could have crushed small start-ups.
“Senator Schumer has always been straight with me, and he has really now come to understand what’s happened in technology,” Wyden said.
Wyden and GOP Rep. Darrell Issa have championed their own solution to internet piracy and copyright infringement — the OPEN Act, which would more directly target what Wyden calls “bad actors” and would promote the digital economy.
Wyden said he was now “encouraged” that Dem leaders would “support a solution along the lines of what we’ve proposed.” This approach is supported by major tech companies, such as Google, that oppose SOPA and PIPA.
Democratic leaders had been pilloried mercilessly for weeks by bloggers and others oganizing against the bills. They were accused of tone-deafness in the face of a major popular outcry — at exactly the moment when they are campaigning on a populist message — and of shunning a major progressive constituency, the online community. Wyden said the message had been heard.
“We wouldn’t accept this enormous body blow to the architecture of the internet — a technological juggernaut for jobs, innovation, freedom of expression, and the like,” Wyden said. “Democratic progressive values are what the internet is all about. If you’re concerned about income equality or what Occupy Wall Street is talking about, the Internet is where you take on the moneyed interests. The Internet is the equalizer — the voice of the grassroots.”
“What has happened in the last few weeks will permanently change the way citizens communicate with their government,” Wyden concluded. “This is a new day.”