Black Wednesday Boycott Turns Back SOPA Support

Yesterday was yet another milestone in the development of social networks as a political force.

After an enormous online backlash against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) elected officials in Washington DC scrambled to abandon their support for SOPA, which had been heavily supported by the entertainment industry and old media companies like News Corp.

A key defector was Senator Marco Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party, who is at the top of the list of potential vice-presidential running mates with likely nominee Mitt Romney. Rubio was actually one of the sponsors of SOPA, and on the day that leading Websites like Wikipedia and Social Media today went dark, and Google covered itself in a black box, Rubio hit the ground running on Wednesday, announcing his change of heart at an early morning press conference. (See the NY Times article for more)

He was joined at 9am by Senator John Cornyn, a fellow Republican from Texas, who chairs the party’s campaign operations. Cornyn’s defection was the official signal to the rank and file that SOPA in its current form is dead. A huge number of elected officials had signed on in support of SOPA which was viewed as an obscure piece of copyright legislation being passed to help the entertainment industry (which, it should be noted, is a significant source of campaign contributions and endorsements.) When the backlash hit—culminated by “Black Wednesday,” they were stunned. And the smart ones–like Rubio–got out in front of the crowd by quickly turning against SOPA.

Former Senator Chris Dodd is now a lobbyist for News Corp and other entertainment companies and he released a statement calling blackouts like Wikipedia’s: “stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging,”

Curiously quiet were tech-savvy representatives like Senator Al Franken from Minnesota who is listed as one of the sponsors of the Senate version of SOPA. It’s clear that official Washington was caught short by the breadth and depth of the opposition to SOPA from Internet users.

This battle is between old media—the entertainment industry as it grew up in the 20th century—and new media in the form of the Internet. The battle lines include specific problems like piracy of movies and music over the Internet and from piracy overseas. But at the heart of the battle lies copyright law as it is currently written which is in no way capable of dealing with the Internet.

Silicon Valley law firms like Wilson Sonsini, who represents clients like Google, have made good money from their expertise in both the new and the old worlds of media that copyright is being stretched between. They will be key arbiters with old media lobbyists like Dodd, as elected officials in Washington try keep campaign contributions from Disney and News Corp rolling in without pissing off most of the people who use the Internet, which is, well….pretty much everyone now.

But fundamentally some revisions in copyright law will have to be made to account for the new user models and the total lack of traditional choke points on the Internet. You simply can’t stop peer to peer sharing in a world of social networks where everyone is a publisher.

Just ask all those former Presidents in the Arab World.


Rohn Jay Miller is CEO of Content + Social, a design and strategic firm in Minneapolis.



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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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