The Stop Online Piracy Act, discussed further below, whipped citizens into a frenzy and led to the largest Internet-based protest to date.
In light of a slightly-reworked, renamed SOPA’s emergence, it is worth reviewing ten failed attempts by the American government to control the Internet.
1. Communications Decency Act (1996) – The portions of the Communications Decency Act that were the most controversial were the ones that attempted to regulate internet pornography; a judiciary panel stated that the bill would infringe upon First Amendment rights and the bill was squashed.
2. Child Online Protection Act (1998) – Though the Child Online Protection Act was passed in 1998, a federal injunction claiming that the language was too broad caused the law to never take effect.
3. Internet School Filtering Act (1998) – While many of the Internet School Filtering Act’s points were eventually enacted through other legislation that did pass, the original bill was struck down.
4. Deleting Online Predators Act (2006) – The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 would have prohibited the use of social networking sites on school or library computers; critics argued, however, that the bill would also limit access to educationally useful information, and as such the bill languished.
5. Intellectual Property Enforcement Act (2007) – Proposed during the 110th session of Congress in an attempt to shore up American intellectual property laws, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Act would have allowed the Department of Justice to press civil charges against those suspected of infringement.
6. Cybersecurity Act (2009) – Though reworded versions of the Cybersecurity Act have been reintroduced each year since the original bill was drafted, public outcry over the unprecedented level of control it would grant the government with has kept any of them from passing.
7. Protecting Cyberspace As a National Asset Act (2010) – Senator Joe Lieberman introduced the Protecting Cyberspace As a National Asset Act in 2010. He then promptly incurred the wrath of critics for citing China’s similar policies in an attempt to portray the bill as standard government procedure.
8. Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (2010) – Activist organizations launched a full-scale attack on COICA, and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden publicly announced his intention to block the bill. Though it did pass the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was killed off before it ever reached fruition.
9. PROTECT IP Act (2011) – The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, a re-write of the failed COICA introduced by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, was one of the 2011 targets of internet activists. The protests launched by major internet players led to the postponement of the bill until the issues were resolved, granting Americans a temporary victory.
10. Stop Online Piracy Act (2011) – Arguably the biggest rallying point for activists in 2011 and early 2012, SOPA led to full and partial protests that shutdown major websites in January of 2012. The bill was postponed until “there is wider agreement on a solution.”
Entertainment industry heavyweights have not given up on their crusade to end piracy; rather than changing their business model to adapt to the needs of a changing world, they’ve chosen to attack the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans. Combined with cybersecurity directives such as CISPA, and a rapidly developing cyberwar arms race, Internet freedom remains under continuous attack.
The above 10 initiatives have been defeated for now, but constant vigilance and activism will be necessary to thwart the latest round of freedom-smashing legislation being ushered in the name of anti-piracy and Internet security.