The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced in October 2011 by a group of House lawmakers led by Rep. Lamar Smith (R) of Texas and backed by lobbyists from Hollywood studios and the music industry, aimed to stop allegedly copyright-infringing websites by blocking them from appearing online.
Particularly aimed at cracking down on pirate websites outside the US, search engines, Internet providers, and advertisers would have been required to disable links to foreign sites that violated a copyright claim in the US. The Senate’s similar Protect IP Act (or PIPA) originally would have allowed the Attorney General to order sites to be blocked by rewriting the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS), which assigns unique identifiers to each website. Doing so, critics argued, would expose users who wanted to visit the blocked sites to criminal scams if they accidentally ended up with a less reputable DNS system hosted by another country.
The bills proved controversial from the start, with critics, including a coalition of Internet heavyweights – such as Google, Twitter, Mozilla, eBay, Wikipedia, Reddit, and Craigslist – some lawmakers, and later the White House arguing the bills would chill free speech and effectively “break the Internet.”
In 2012, the companies mounted a massive protest, with black bars and explanations of the danger posed by the bills replacing normal content on Reddit and Wikipedia. The following day, several pro-SOPA websites, including the leading music industry trade group and CBS were also blocked in denial of service attacks, for which the hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility.
The campaign, which shuttered several of the Internet’s most popular sites, proved immediately successful, with House and Senate lawmakers postponing votes on both bills on the same day the protest began, while walking away from the controversial DNS provision of PIPA; both bills died in Congress.
More recently, documents revealed in the 2014 hack of e-mails by Sony executives reveal that a coalition of studios had begun a second effort to fight against online piracy by targeting a company the studios call “Goliath” — which is likely Google — but so far nothing appears to come of that effort.
“To solve this problem by doing damage to the Internet, which has been a juggernaut for job growth and innovation and free speech, is a mistake,” Sen. Ron Wyden, (D) of Oregon, a longtime PIPA opponent, said just before the protest. “So that was our argument: There’s a problem, there’s a remedy, but you don’t need a cluster bomb to solve it.”