There have been two bills that were created and going through the approval process in the US congress and senate, called SOPA and PIPA, that, if passed, would affect internet users worldwide. This story is an interesting one about how various groups of businesses competed for government attention, and how the internet based organizations enabled consumers to bring their dissatisfaction to the attention of US law makers and halt the progress of the two bills.
What are the issues around SOPA and PIPA?
Here are the two bills that have been presented to US law makers
1. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)
2. PIPA – Protect IP (the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act)
They deal with copy-write protection. On the one side are the supporters eg The Motion Picture Association of America and the Entertainment Software Association, amongst others and even GoDaddy, a domain name company and hosting service. See the full list of supporters here.
On the other side of the issue is all of us, the consumers and producer of pictures, movies, pictures AND the service providers that help us share these things we produce: Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Online gaming companies and many more. It isn’t that consumers are against piracy laws, just that this set of piracy laws had unintended consequences.
Here’s a ‘Ted Talk’ video by Clay Shirky on Why SOPA is a bad idea, given before the vote went to US Congress.
How did the public get engaged?
What process brought the problem to our attention and what the implications of it would be to us? Large web service providers who we count on every day decided to stop providing their services for a day. Here are a few companies that blacked out their sites or provided limited service along with a message of complaint about the upcoming legislation.
Major League Gaming
Mozilla (the makers of Firefox web browser)
WordPress (software for blogging)
Tumbler (software for mini blogging)
Some. like Facebook, continued to provide their service but loudly voiced their concerns. Here’s a link to a play by play on how the day rolled out when lawmakers were going to vote on SOPA.
Visitors to Wikipedia’s English site have been met with a blacked out page in protest against proposed US laws to stop online piracy. Photograph: Alex Milan Tracy / Demotix
GoDaddy dropped off their support of SOPA because of negative consumer reaction. After it announced its support of SOPA, GoDaddy lost 30,000 domain name registrations a day. Even after they withdrew their support, internet users continued to move their domain names away from GoDaddy, and to other domain name companies, showing the power of the internet community.
(For those who don’t know what a domain name company is, it is simply where you buy your organization’s domain name, eg www.mycompany.com. There is an annual fee for a domain name, usually about $10.00 US a year so losing 30,000 a day, means that GoDaddy’s revenue shrinks its revenues by $300,000 this year and for future years as well.)
The Voice of the Consumer was heard
At the end of the day, SOPA did not get passed. In fact, President Barak Obama, declared that even if the law makers passed the law, he would use his constitutional right to veto the bill. The PIPA bill was supposed to come to a vote on Jan 24, 2012, 8 days after the SOPA bill protest and failure. According to Wikipedia, the vote on the bill has been postponed until the issues raised by the SOPA bill are resolved. It is clear that these issues are not dead and will resurface again, hopefully with different legislation but the legislation in this format will not be passed.
Customer Satisfaction Perspective
Can an individual with an objection to a proposed government legislation make a difference? They can if they have the backing of businesses whose livelihoods depend on serving the customer. It appeared to be Hollywood versus Silicon Valley but the real losers would have been consumers. It is clear the the US government and elected officials know they serve their constituents. But it took the intermediaries of Google, Wikipedia, and other big names to bring the issue forward so the average US citizen would understand it.
It takes courage to go up against big organizations with large budgets for lobbying, but the internet is the equalizer. Consumers and those who advocate for them, can be heard with the new tools available. Not everyone knows how to create a web site but they can send their message to their elected officials and that still seems to work well in the US.
Organizations need to be mindful that their business partners and customers can use these new web capabilities with great effect. The power has shifted from the corporation to the users.
What is your opinion? Leave your comments in the space below this post.
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