When Congress comes back into session at the end of January, both the House and the Senate are expected to make passing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP (PIPA) a top priority. But representatives may want to think twice before voting yes; voters are taking notice. Members of both parties are seeing election opponents explaining how SOPA will censor free speech and stifle innovation, and the presidential candidates are being asked pointed questions about whether they support the bill that will almost certainly kill jobs.
Yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan, a member of the Republican House leadership, turned against SOPA after a backlash from the social news site Reddit. After leading a successful boycott against Go Daddy, Reddit users decided to turn its sights on politicians supporting SOPA. Ryan had not explicitly endorsed SOPA, but as ABC News noted, “had previously released an unclear statement regarding his stance on SOPA that had the Internet pegging him as a supporter.” Regardless, Ryan’s Democratic challenger Rob Zerban emphatically denounced SOPA, and Reddit raised $15,000 for his congressional campaign against Ryan.
The pressure worked. Ryan was soon forced to release a statement saying he, in fact, was not a co-sponsor of SOPA. Then, just yesterday, Ryan announced he now opposes SOPA because “it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.”
But Ryan isn’t the only Congressman feeling the heat. Democratic Rep. Bob Goodlatte, one of SOPA’s strongest supporters on the House Judiciary Committee, is facing an election challenge from Republican Karen Kwiatkowski. She has attacked Goodlatte’s support of SOPA on big government grounds, saying it "will dramatically increase the federal government’s role in our lives, online and offline.”
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, another co-sponsor, is also facing a challenger, Jack Arnold, who recently argued SOPA “would give unheard-of censorship power to the Department of Justice” and “cripple the Internet as it exists today.”
As you’ll notice, these challengers are emerging on both the left and right. That’s because defending Internet freedom isn’t a partisan issue. Red State managing editor and influential Tea Party activist Erick Erickson lamented how he supports Rep. Blackburn on many issues, yet still would pledge to support a primary challenge against her if that’s what it meant to stop SOPA. “Sometimes a fight is that important,” he said. In fact, Erickson, proposed a left-right coalition to fund primary candidates in both parties who are anti-SOPA. Hollywood may have spent millions lobbying members of both parties in Congress, but the opposition against the blacklist bills is just as bipartisan.
Congress will return to Washington in two weeks, so in the mean time, follow EFF’s guide to in-person meetings with your Congressional representative and contact his or her office to make your voice heard. Public Knoweldge has a list of all the townhalls being held members of Congress during the recess. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick compiled a list of all the House members who are co-sponsors of SOPA, as well as the Senate members who are co-sponsors of PIPA and up for re-election in 2012. In addition, Open Congress is attempting to get every member of Congress on-the-record in regards to their support for SOPA or PIPA. You can help them by calling your Congressmen and reporting back to them here. Open Congress’ current whip count for PIPA can be viewed here. SOPAOpera.org also is keeping track of individual representatives' positions in the House and Senate.
But this isn’t just a Congressional issue. Every presidential candidate needs to get on-the-record about their position on the blacklist bills and whether they support a free Internet as well.
Yesterday, Mitt Romney was asked about SOPA by a constituent, who said it would kill her small business. While he didn’t respond to the bill’s specifics, Romney criticized the theory behind it, saying he is against bills that are enacted to just "stop bad acts," at the expense of the economy and business.
Don’t Censor the Net is tracking the Republican presidential candidates’ positions on the blacklist bills. Rep. Ron Paul is the only candidate to take a strong stand against SOPA. “If enacted as currently written,” he said in a bipartisan letter he signed with other House members, “this legislation would cause substantial harm to the innovation and economic growth opportunities created by the Internet.
Rick Santorum was also asked about SOPA by a potential. While he declined to take a position on the specific bill, he disappointingly cited his past support for Internet regulation and argued, “there are limits to freedom on the Internet.”
No other presidential candidates are on-the-record. Let’s change that. Right now, the candidates are campaigning around New Hampshire, and soon, they will be in South Carolina. If you are at an event, please ask the candidate and document it on video, if possible. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any video recordings.
Let’s force these politicians to see the dangers of the blacklist legislation and the power of the Internet at the same time.