Silicon Valley Coalition Faces New Challenge

Internet companies and activists showed their growing clout by all but killing two copyright bills that big media websites had pushed. Now, the same players who stopped SOPA and PIPA are trying to work together to further protect their interests. They're finding that may be easier said than done.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Audie Cornish. Not long ago, two obscure copyright bills nicknamed SOPA and PIPA seemed certain to win congressional approval. Then came SOPA blackout day. Several big Silicon Valley companies and Internet activists joined forces to stop the bills and Congress backed down, but NPR's Joel Rose reports that the coalition now faces a new challenge: agreeing on what to do next.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: For months, opponents of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and its sister bill, PIPA, the Protect IP Act in the Senate, complained to anyone who would listen that the bills would chill free speech on the Internet and they were pretty much ignored until January 18th, when Wikipedia and Google joined a 24-hour online protest.

MARKHAM ERICKSON: Five thousand petitions a minute to Congress, four million Tweets on SOPA and PIPA, nine million people signing petitions to their members of Congress.

ROSE: Markham Erickson is executive director of Net Coalition, which represents web companies, including Google and eBay.

ERICKSON: We've never seen anything like that grassroots reaction to a bill passing through Congress, especially one having to do with copyright law.

ROSE: At the heart of critics' concerns were provisions in the bills that they say would have made a website like Wikipedia liable for so much as linking to a page that's suspected of copyright infringement and Congress took note. SOPA and PIPA were both shelved indefinitely to the dismay of their backers, including Michael O'Leary at the Motion Picture Association of America.

O'Leary says his group will still push for ways to protect American movies and music from so-called rogue websites that he says are currently beyond the reach of U.S. law.

MICHAEL O'LEARY: Right now, we have very little recourse against people who sit offshore and steal American products. So, I cannot tell you what form the response will come in, I can't tell you when, but there is still an understanding, a common understanding, which I think is shared by all parties to this debate that something needs to be done to address this problem.

ROSE: The MPAA and other content creators might take comfort from this line in President Obama's State of the Union Address.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's not right when another country lets our movies, music and software be pirated.

ROSE: In other words, SOPA and PIPA may be history, but this debate is far from over and opponents of those bills, like Josh Levy, know it.

JOSHUA LEVY: There will be more things coming down the horizon that we will have to look out for and that's why we have to get out in front of them.

ROSE: Levy is the campaign director at Free Press, one of many nonprofits that joined in the fight against the two bills. He wants to see the Internet community craft an online bill of rights or even push for a legislative alternative to SOPA.

One such alternative is the Open Act, a copyright enforcement bill sponsored by Congressman Darrell Issa of California and Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Levy says that bill is better than SOPA, but he isn't ready to commit to it just yet.

LEVY: The next step is to find consensus about what's the best way to unite all of these millions of supporters of the Internet. We don't have the answers necessarily right now, but we know that we have a lot of momentum on our side and we have a lot of people on our side and that's new.

ROSE: But is it enough? Without big web companies like Wikipedia and Google joining the cause, SOPA and PIPA might have gone from obscure copyright bills to obscure copyright laws and Wikipedia, at least, does not seem to be interested in rewriting the rules that govern the internet.

Jay Walsh is a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs the online encyclopedia.

JAY WALSH: What Wikimedia and what the people who edit Wikipedia really want to do is edit Wikipedia. Advocacy isn't our subject area of expertise, nor is how to prevent online piracy, to be honest.

ROSE: Walsh wouldn't rule out another protest if Wikipedia's interests are threatened again, but without the web's sixth largest site on their side, Internet activists may, once again, find it hard to get Congress and the country to pay attention to the finer points of copyright law.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

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