The fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act ramped up to a climax Wednesday, as Internet heavyweights like Wikipedia and Reddit went dark in protest of the controversial anti-piracy bill. But while it's apparent that the tech industry is ready to amass its muscle to prevent the bill's passage, far less attention has been focused on SOPA's supporters. Who are those people who want, in the words of the bill's harshest critics, to shut down the Internet?
The major proponent of SOPA and its Senate Counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act, has been the entertainment industry, which says the bills' controversial measures -- most notably giving the government the authority to shut off access to sites copyright holders claim are hosting pirated material -- are essential in curbing rampant online piracy. According to a report from advocacy organization Map Light, these companies have donated nearly $2 million to SOPA's 32 congressional sponsors since the beginning of 2009.
Yes, 32 co-sponsors. (PROTECT IP had 40.) Support for SOPA and PIPA in Congress is wide and bipartisan, blurring traditional lines of conservatism and progressivism. To make just one example: Liberal firebrand Al Franken is a fierce proponent of the bill, while former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has expressed concerns about the government overreaching.
However, the grassroots campaign against SOPA appears to be chilling congressional enthusiasm. At least six co-sponsors removed their names from the bills Wednesday, and many more supporters have softened their tone.
In a joint statement, New York senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both co-sponsors of PROTECT IP, expressed sympathy with the Internet activists.
"There are two important issues in this debate: continued freedom of expression on the Internet and the ability to block online piracy," the pair wrote. "We believe that both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns."
Others, meanwhile, were less cowed. Rep. Lamar Smith, SOPA's author, condemned Wikipedia's efforts as a "publicity stunt," while Recording Industry Association of America spokesman Jonathan Lamy minimized the potential effects of the blackout.
"After Wikipedia blackrout [sic], somewhere, a student today is doing original research and getting his/her facts straight." Lamy wrote in a tweet, which he subsequently deleted. "Perish the thought."