The SOPA/PIPA Silver Lining of Internet Infrastructure


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Ten years ago, a massive digital grassroots movement defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and its counterpart in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (SOPA/PIPA). In hindsight, this resounding victory led to an even greater result: the birth of a great wave of Internet activism organizations, including our own Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition), a new unified and independent voice for providers of internet infrastructure.

Our story started in 2011 when I ran the operations of a web hosting company called ServInt. My future i2Coalition co-founder David Snead, was our outsourced general counsel. He and I were alarmed at the detrimental impact on the Internet infrastructure layer of a little-known bill, the Combating Online Infringement, and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) .

Although well-intentioned to combat counterfeiting by “rogue” foreign websites, the bill would have allowed the mass blocking of websites by the Department of Justice without due process, at the request of intellectual property rights holders. .. We caught up with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and his staff for advice on how to have a voice in the COICA debate. Their answer was direct: “get more of you”.

At that time, it seemed that a handful of smaller internet infrastructure companies were even aware of COICA. We realized we had to start a grassroots movement.

We began to extensively educate the online and offline Internet infrastructure community at conferences, meetings and events, which led to the formation of the “Save Hosting Coalition”. We launched letter-writing campaigns to explain our deep concerns to congressional lawmakers, which continued when SOPA/PIPA eventually replaced COICA.

Fortunately, as our group worked to create a social media campaign and connect with lawmakers, we found that we were no longer alone. The Consumer Technology Association, then known as the Consumer Electronics Association, had an active lobbying team that invited us to join them in their efforts to convince Congress of the dangers of SOPA/PIPA.

This expanded collaboration marked a turning point when we realized the crucial nature of our role in the SOPA/PIPA debate. As Internet infrastructure providers, we were in the best position to explain to decision-makers how the technology works and that their well-meaning proposals to fix the problems would actually undermine the functioning of the Internet ecosystem. We have shown that the proposed SOPA/PIPA technical provisions would prevent small and medium-sized Internet infrastructure companies from continuing to operate at scale.

Our campaign against SOPA/PIPA culminated in our landmark conversation with Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, which helped convince Senator Moran to join Senator Wyden in a bipartisan grip on PIPA in the Senate. This procedural decision froze the action of the Senate a bit and gave our new friends at Reddit and Fight for the Future time to organize Internet Blackout Day, which shut down 115,000 sites and galvanized support. from the public to stop the bills. We helped coordinate this vital day, which effectively stopped SOPA/PIPA in its tracks.

The power of facts made the difference in our collective victory. Affected tech companies spoke with one voice about how the bills would destroy internet infrastructure operations. Alignment with the CTA has enabled a strong and unified advocacy campaign. Therefore, minds changed in Congress because members and staff heard rational arguments and listened to our concerns.

The SOPA/PIPA legislative debate has highlighted the ongoing threat of misinformed internet policy. We saw the need for continued education advocacy from the perspective of our Internet infrastructure provider.

Four Save Hosting Coalition companies (Rackspace, cPanel, Endurance (now Newfold Digital) and Softlayer) have invested in making our group work. On July 25, 2012, we officially launched the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) with 42 members with a mission to ensure Internet infrastructure providers are at the table to help address future Internet policy issues.

We believed then, as we do now, that Internet policy solutions should be scaled appropriately without creating barriers for new small entrants into the infrastructure layer, whether they be students innovating in their dormitories or entrepreneurs who meet a need. Policymakers need to understand the technology underlying all these small digital businesses to avoid laws and regulations that would inadvertently disrupt their operation, ultimately limiting incentives for future innovation and market entry.

We are proud to reflect on our excellent work a decade ago to educate Congress on how SOPA/PIPA would harm the Internet ecosystem. This victorious fight led to the formation of i2Coaltion, and our story is not unique. The most important outcome of the SOPA/PIPA saga has proven to be the creation of permanent organizations like ours, created to champion Internet innovation.

There will always be a need for more Internet education for legislators and regulators, and there will always be someone who comes out with another SOPA/PIPA-like proposal. The Internet needs permanent voices ready to respond to both.

As we celebrate i2Coalition’s 10th anniversary in 2022, we know our work is constantly evolving. The Internet infrastructure industry today faces a diverse set of challenges involving security, safety, privacy, and more. We face many of the same challenges focused on intermediary liability that we encountered when we started, particularly as we engage in complex issues such as U.S. Section 230 reform and the law on digital services in the EU.

We must continue to learn together and strengthen alliances with other like-minded stakeholders, to ensure that an informed appreciation of the workings of the Internet fully informs policy-making. At i2Coalition, we are more excited than ever about the digital future and look forward to continuing to be the voice of the multitudes of businesses building the internet.

Christian Dawson is the co-founder of Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition) where he works to make the Internet a better and safer place for businesses that make up the Cloud.

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Filed Under: activism, cloud, copyright, infrastructure, internet infrastructure, lobbying, politics, sopa


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