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SOPA legislation

When Rep. Lamar Smith announced the Stop Online Piracy Act in late 2011, he knew it was going to be controversial. But the Texas Republican probably never anticipated the broad and fierce outcry from Internet users that SOPA provoked.

When it comes to cracking down on Internet piracy, Hollywood has been used to getting its own way on Capitol Hill. For the last 15 years, the Motion Picture Association of America and its allies have tallied an enviable list of political victories: the No Electronic Theft Act (1997), the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (1998), the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (2005), and the Pro-IP Act (2008).

But in 2012, something strange happened. Hollywood and its allies among large copyright holders actually lost.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and a parallel Senate version called Protect IP were designed to appear non-controversial, and its authors claimed the bills would target only "rogue" offshore sites. But as Internet users delved into the details of the proposed law -- and its potential impact on security, deep packet inspection, and free speech -- support in D.C. for the proposals began to erode.

An unprecedented Internet-wide protest on January 18, involving Wikipedia, Google, and Craigslist, knocked Senate Web sites offline and led to a scheduled vote being cancelled.

SOPA may, however, return under a different name. In April, the White House asked Congress to enact a new copyright law "to address offshore infringement," and next year's chairman of the House of Representatives panel that would draft a SOPA successor recently said that he remains "committed to enacting strong copyright laws."

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