SOPA and PIPA are on indefinite hold

The tech industry and free speech advocates have been desperately fighting to derail misguided efforts to combat online privacy, and have had extraordinary success just this week raising the visibility of their efforts.

As of this morning, it looks like they’ve won.

At issue are two related bills: the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the even more offensive Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, which enjoy Hollywood support, but which also threaten to stifle innovation, suppress free speech, and in some cases, even undermine national security.

The lingering threat this week has been over whether the bills might advance despite the opposition. The Senate planned to bring PIPA to the floor on Tuesday, and the House Judiciary Committee planned to advance SOPA in a couple of weeks. Earlier today, however, both bills were put on indefinite hold.

Congressional leaders moved to bury a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills Friday after coming under intense pressure from online activists and tech companies.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cancelled next week’s vote on the Protect IP Act (PIPA) Friday morning, and minutes later, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he would shelve the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

The sudden retreat is a resounding victory for online activists, who mobilized intense opposition to the legislation with a protest Wednesday that featured blackouts across the Web.

Both bills seemed poised to sail through Congress just a few weeks ago and now appear dead.

This is rather extraordinary turn of events. The tech industry is not known for its lobbying prowess, and getting large numbers of American to care quickly about fairly obscure legislation — SOPA and PIPA were not on the mainstream’s radar until very recently — is notoriously difficult.

And yet, here we are.

There’s also a delicious irony to the developments: SOPA and PIPA proponents intended to pursue measures that would restrict the power of the Internet, so opponents used the power of the Internet to restrict the bills.

To clarify, while it’s fair to say SOPA and PIPA are dead in their current forms, supporters still intend to revisit the issue, and believe the legislation can be “fixed” to address critics’ concerns. Those who help scuttle the bills this week would be wise to remain vigilant.

As for the party politics, the partisan divisions have been nothing short of bizarre. The Senate bill was killed thanks to opposition from the far-right, but in the House, it was a far-right Texan who helped lead the charge. There are practically zero instances in which I believe Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is correct and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) is wrong, but this one issue became the exception.

But I think the suggestion that the GOP has positioned itself as the true champions of online freedom may be overstating matters — the tide turned against these bills in earnest the moment the Obama White House announced its opposition. Republicans in the Senate were instrumental in scuttling the legislation, but it was a Democratic president that gave opponents the initial momentum they needed to have success this week.

Regardless of credit, though, the good news is some bad bills aren’t going anywhere. Online activists who pulled out the stops this week? Take a bow; you’ve earned it.