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Paul Ryan turns against SOPA following a Reddit-based attack

GOP Rep. Paul Ryan never sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act. But the crowd at Reddit.com targeted him anyway -- and embraced a Democratic challenger.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read

Rep. Paul Ryan, one of the most influential members of the House of Representatives, appears to have bowed to a campaign started at Reddit.com opposing the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act.

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who was talked about last summer as a potential GOP presidential candidate and who delivered his party's response to President Obama's last State of the Union address, said today that he would vote against SOPA on the House floor.

Paul Ryan, far left, and other top Republicans visit Facebook in September 2011.
Paul Ryan, far left, and other top Republicans visit Facebook in September 2011. CNET

Support for and opposition to SOPA and its Senate counterpart, Protect IP, doesn't follow traditional party lines. The conservative Heritage Foundation has joined the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in expressing concerns about granting government the power to deliver an Internet death penalty to allegedly piratical Web sites. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

Today's statement from Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget committee who toured SOPA-hating Silicon Valley in September, says:

The Internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse. I do not support H.R. 3261 in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House.

It's not entirely clear what prompted Ryan's announcement: he was never actually a sponsor of the legislation, as his press aides noted on Twitter last month. A Ryan spokesman did not immediately respond to queries from CNET this morning.

But the most likely cause is a campaign called Operation Pull Ryan that was launched on Reddit.com.

It was a somewhat bizarre approach: instead of targeting one of SOPA's 32 sponsors or one of Protect IP's 41 sponsors, the Reddit-ers mounted a campaign against a lawmaker who was neutral on the legislation.

Over the last month, threads with titles like Congressman Paul Ryan Database: Phase 2 Analyze and Attack and Simple Vector Logo for Operation Pull Ryan Shirts or Sticker or Whatever appeared, and the Reddit crew soon embraced the candidacy of Rob Zerban, a Democrat seeking to challenge Ryan. (One thread, perhaps a bit more thoughtful than others, worried "Is this really about SOPA or is this about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan?")

Zerban's campaign Web site showed no prior interest in the finer points of technology policy or copyright law. But the candidate was quick to recognize an opportunity when he saw one, and participated in a Reddit question and answer session that went beyond SOPA to military detentions, health care, drug legalization, and personal history. (Q: Who has been your single biggest inspiration? Zerban: My mom.)

"You've helped me raise over $15,000 in the last 48 hours and hundreds have signed up to volunteer in the effort to unseat Paul Ryan in 2012," Zerban said afterward. "I can't thank you enough."

This isn't the first scalp that the Reddit-ers can plausibly claim. Last month, a boycott organized on the site prompted the domain registrar GoDaddy to reverse its support for SOPA to formal opposition.

SOPA, of course, represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore Web sites. It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet service providers, and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish. It's opposed (PDF) by many Internet companies, users, and civil liberties groups.

The debate over SOPA in the House Judiciary committee is expected to resume this month; a Senate floor debate on Protect IP will begin on January 24.