Lobby for free speech

By Luke Wilusz

When I first wrote about Congress’s proposed Internet censorship bill a few weeks ago, very few people seemed to be aware of the issue. Luckily for proponents of free speech and an open Internet, there’s been a significant amount of backlash since then from ordinary citizens and corporate tech juggernauts alike in the days leading up to a heated Nov. 16 House of Representatives hearing regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act.

This means that the bill, which is heavily backed by lobbies for the film, music and pharmaceutical industries—no small fish by any means in terms of money and influence—finally has significant opposition from groups with real clout.

A coalition of Internet and technology companies—composed of Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Twitter, Yahoo and Zynga—banded together to take out a full-page ad in The New York Times urging legislators to reconsider their support for SOPA. Their approach to the matter was pretty brilliant, too; rather than strictly emphasize the First Amendment implications of the bill, they focused on universal economic concerns. The ad played up the role of Internet companies as job creators and as cornerstones of our economy and pointed out how much these proposed restrictions could stifle innovation and growth in the industry. The bill has also received harsh criticism from tech advocacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and tech blogs and social networks exploded with appeals for people to contact their legislators and voice their opposition.

While it’s sad that so much of our country’s policy making is influenced by corporate interests, it’s good to see such influence being exerted on both sides of the issue. Oftentimes it seems like legislation has been drafted and carefully tailored to serve the interests of one specific industry, usually to the detriment of average citizens and consumers. Now that some opposing titans have entered the fight and turned the issue into a debate rather than a sure thing, there’s a chance for our legislative process to actually serve the best interests of the American people in some roundabout way. The fact that all of these Internet corporations, which are usually fierce competitors, have joined forces to oppose the bill just serves to highlight how important this issue really is.

This sudden backlash has raised doubts in some of the bill’s initial supporters, but the fight is far from over. People need to continue spreading the word about SOPA, how it will affect our daily lives and why we should oppose it. We’ve gotten Congress’s attention—now we need to convince lawmakers to do the right thing and amend the bill to prevent it from becoming an avenue for censorship and grievous abuses of power.