Smarterbits

Winning the Battle, Enduring the War

Even with cynics such as myself, it’ll be easy to chalk up today’s protests against SOPA/PIPA as a success. “Blackout” may have turned out to be a vague term, but the stance taken by Reddit, Wikipedia, Boing Boing and others certainly attracted attention from national news outlets, stirred fervent discussion on social media sites and encouraged citizens to action, whether by educating them about the issues at hand or motivating them to reach out to the legislative representatives. Best of all, the blackouts also coincided (see what I’m doing there?) with news of a few SOPA/PIPA supporting congressmen and senators announcing the withdrawl of their support for the controversial bills. SOPA lost the battle, right?

Here’s where my inner-cynic appears in the back of my mind, crushing my optimism that we’ve won the war. Because it would be so easy to call today a victory and move on, satisfied with ourselves for doing essentially the very minimum informed citizens should do in a similar situation. What happens tomorrow - the day after - next week, when the blackouts are over, the news cycle has moved on to the next big thing and the conversation is again driven mostly by concerned members of the tech community? The current incarnation of SOPA might have received enough ill will to never see the light of day, but lobbyists will lobby and nothing is yet stopping congressmen who’ve backpeddled once from doing it twice. My fear isn’t unfounded either, as demonstrated by an article from a former lobbyist appearing on The Verge today:

… The conversation may reach a flashpoint in the next few days, but Congress has plenty of time to sit on SOPA and PIPA until the fervor dies down. Wikipedia can’t shut itself down every month to protest the bills every time they take a new turn for the worse, and the public’s attentiveness isn’t likely to last forever.

… Even if SOPA and PIPA die on the vine, Congress will be back with fresh legislation and cute new propaganda-laden titles, courtesy of the MPAA and RIAA’s ruthlessly effective combination of money and patience — a combination the tech community has shown little interest in matching.

Will we be back protesting SOPA/PIPA 2.0 three months from now? Will Wikipedia and co. stage Blackout 2.0 in response? How effective can continuously doing so be if it only serves as a delay, a stop-gap? As the aforementioned quote makes clear, the unfortunate reality is that laws are neither born nor laid to rest solely on the letters and votes of concerned citizens.

Today may have been a victory but the stratagies that worked today aren’t evergreen. The faster we can move on from censored twitter avatars and blacking out our favorite frontpages, the better. To that end, I’d like to direct your attention to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused political issues surrounding technology. To save you the trouble - or laziness 1, of looking it up yourself, I’ve substantially quoted their about page below:

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990 — well before the Internet was on most people’s radar — and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.

Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations. By mobilizing more than 61,000 concerned citizens through our Action Center, EFF beats back bad legislation. In addition to advising policymakers, EFF educates the press and public.

EFF is a donor-funded nonprofit and depends on your support to continue successfully defending your digital rights. Litigation is particularly expensive; because two-thirds of our budget comes from individual donors, every contribution is critical to helping EFF fight — and win — more cases.

The EFF is the closest thing we have to our own lobbyists 2 and may be one of our most effective tools in our campaign against SOPA/PIPA. They’re the ones actually in the proverbial trenches, equipped with the experience and know-how to affect change from within the system itself. We need a group of like the EFF to endure for us over the long haul. What can we do to help them? Put our money where our mouthes are and donate to the EFF to keep them fighting our battles.

The EFF can help us close the gap that separates supporters of SOPA/PIPA from the public interest. But only if we’re willing to take tangible actions to help them get there. If we can put forth the same kind of effort supporting the EFF as we demonstrated today, them maybe I can start quashing that cynic in the back of my mind.


  1. And my own laziness giving you my own incomplete explanation of what it is the EFF does.
  2. Save maybe the actual lobbyists of corporations supporting the anti-SOPA.

    When Wikipedia Takes a Stance

    Canadian poet and novelist John Degen, on Wikipedia’s stance on SOPA:

    Tomorrow, when Wikipedia turns the lights back on, and folks look up SOPA and PIPA to find out what happened, does anyone believe there will be a balanced, unbiased Wikipedia entry on the subject? How unbelievably sad.

    I had failed, through all the blackout buzz today, to even consider the implications of Wikipedia publicly taking a stance on a newsworthy and important event. It’s already caused one Wikipedian to resign.