The nation's lawmakers backed down yesterday, after millions of Internet users from one end of the country to the other protested two "anti-piracy" bills, and thousands of websites blacked out their pages.
Three co-sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (the House bill) and the Protect Internet Privacy Act (the Senate bill) withdrew their support for the controversial bills, after a day in which Wikipedia went dark for the first time ever.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) withdrew co-sponsorship of the Protect Internet Privacy Act in the Senate, reducing the number of its co-sponsors to 39, and greatly weakening its prospects for passage. PIPA's companion House bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, lost the support of Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.).
The bills had the financial backing of major corporate interests, including the film and entertainment industries, record companies, and cable television networks, among others.
Opponents of the bills included large Internet companies, supporters of file sharing and downloading, and social networkers.
Websites like Wikipedia, Tumblr, 4Chan, and Reddit led the charge, but website giants Google and Facebook were also anti-SOPA/PIPA hot spots.
Google placed a big black rectangle over its logo, and urged visitors, "Tell Congress: 'Please don't censor the web!'"
On Facebook, thousands of users rallied against SOPA and PIPA. Many changed their profile pictures to mock-censorship images or ones that attacked the bills outright.
Users also posted status updates which joked, "This status has been removed due to censorship," in order to draw the attention of casual Facebookers to the cause. And finally, many status updates directly called on people to fight the legislation and voice their concerns.
Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg used Twitter to comment on the issue, tweeting, "Tell your congressmen you want them to be pro-Internet." This tweet linked to a longer statement by Zuckerberg on Facebook.
"Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA," Zuckerberg continued, "And we will oppose any laws that hurt the Internet."
The overall opposition to these bills has extended beyond that of simply an online movement, and it culminated yesterday in Reddit users spamming the fax machines and inboxes of senators and representatives, and many infuriated Internet users actually taking to the streets in order to protest.
Protesters in New York, coordinated by a local networking group called NY Tech Meetup, gathered outside the offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (who supported PIPA) to make their voices heard.
"We're here to make sure our senators know that the New York tech community will not take no for an answer," declared Nate Westheimer, one of the protest's organizers. "The provisions being suggested right now would undermine the way the Internet works."
As a result of these developments, a new feeling is emerging within the online community: the feeling that this is perhaps a turning point for the way business is conducted in Washington.
"I think it's an important moment in the Capitol," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who strongly opposes the legislation. "Too often, legislation is about competing business interests. This is way beyond that. This is individual citizens rising up."
Many of those who have been observing the developments feel that this is a clear example of Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley: On one hand, the media companies have united in favor of the bills. On the other, the big names on the web are strongly fighting back. Those big web names, however, have the added backing of a major grassroots coalition of web surfers and social networkers; average citizens who feel the Internet should not fall victim to corporate interests.
In the aftermath, post-blackout Wikipedia had a message on its site Thursday morning, which read, "Thank you for protecting Wikipedia. We're not done yet." Clicking that message took the viewer to a thank you letter and info on how to continue the fight against anti-piracy bills.
"Your voice was loud and strong," said the message. "Millions of people have spoken in defense of a free and open Internet."
Caption: Sue Gardner, of the Wikimedia Foundation, discusses the blackout of Wikipedia's English website on the evening of January 17, in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Victorgrigas/Wikipedia