Congressional support for anti-piracy bills drops like flies as Internet protest shakes Capitol Hill

What began as opposition to two obscure bills designed to combat the piracy of American movie, music, books and writing on the Internet, may have changed lobbying tactics in Washington, D.C. forever.

“I think it is an important moment in the Capitol,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), an opponent of the legislation, told the “New York Times.” “Too often, legislation is about competing business interests. This is way beyond that. This is individual citizens rising up.”

As the protest began, it took down Congressional servers and websites, overwhelming the e-mail capabilities of many members of Congress. As the phone calls and messages mounted, prominent backers of the legislation came forward to say they had changed their minds.

One of the Senate bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Mario Rubio (R-Florida), renounced the bill on Facebook. Next was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who leads Republican fundraising efforts. Even Tea Party favorite, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), changed his mind.

Then came others, including Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), and Reps. Lee Terry (R-Nebraska) and Ben Quayle (R-Arizona). At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition throughout the day.

Though Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader in the Senate, vowed to press for a vote next Tuesday, there are now expectations that the bill will fail to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate move forward.

Christopher Dodd, the former senator who is now head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, was disappointed. He told the “Times” the Internet opposition may well change Washington forever. “It’s a new day,” he said. “Brace yourselves.”

The sheer size of the protest also impressed John P. Feehery, a former House Republican leadership aide who previously worked at the motion picture association. “The problem for the content industry is they just don’t know how to mobilize people,” Feehery told the newspaper. “They have a small group of content makers, a few unions, whereas the Internet world, the social media world especially, can reach people in ways we never dreamed of before.”

Few lawmakers—both Democrats and Republicans—question the need to combat pirates on the Internet in China, Russia and elsewhere who offer free American movies, television shows, music and books almost as soon as they are released. So the issue will probably soon return, in another form.

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, agreed that the issue is far from over.

“The reality is that we don’t think SOPA is going away, and PIPA is still quite active. Moreover, SOPA and PIPA are just indicators of a much broader problem. All around the world, we’re seeing the development of legislation intended to fight online piracy, and regulate the Internet in other ways, that hurt online freedoms. Our concern extends beyond SOPA and PIPA: they are just part of the problem. We want the Internet to remain free and open, everywhere, for everyone.”