MANHATTAN (CN) – Several prominent senators on Wednesday backed away from the Stop Online Piracy Act, as millions of U.S. citizens signed petitions, thousands protested in front of congressional offices, and dozens of websites were blacked out to protest the bill, which would allow the federal government to block websites accused of copyright infringement.
By the end of the day, several politicians who had supported or co-sponsored the bill said they had switched their positions, including Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
According to the media watchdog Media Matters, major television networks had all but blocked mention of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister legislation, Protect I.P. Act (PIPA), from their news cycles.
Opposition to the legislation remained in the margins until Wednesday, when Wikipedia, Google, AOL, Reddit and other websites informed their millions of visitors about the legislation.
Several hundred people filled the public plaza in front of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer’s New York office Wednesday afternoon, fueled in part by the 20,000-member NY Tech Meetup group.
Demonstrators chanted: “The users united will never be deleted!”
Young entrepreneur Ken Colten held up a sign declaring he was a “Happily Employed New Grad Thanks to a Free and Open Internet.”
After graduating from Stony Brook College last year, Colten became a lead web developer at Twubs, which aggregates Twitter hashtags.
He explained the threat that SOPA and PIPA pose to his website.
“It affects us in two main ways,” Colten said. “First, you have to police all the content. So we’re aggregating Tweets. We don’t know what our users are linking to. So we have to go in and remove all links for all copyright material when we get a request for that, and then keep doing that into the future, it would be way too much of a burden on our servers to actually take care of that.
“The second thing is it’s an additional risk,” he said. “For any user-generated content site, venture capitalists are not going to be as willing to invest because there are more risks involved.”
A search of #SOPA on Twubs.com Wednesday afternoon produced more Tweets than the server could accommodate in real time, at a rate of hundreds per minute.
Hashtag.org, which produces statistics on Twitter trends, showed that before Tuesday, less than 0.1 percent of Tweets included #SOPA in January. The chart showed a slight rise on Tuesday before climbing to 3.5 percent at its height Wednesday.
Actor Joe Urla, a 27-year member of the Screen Actors Guild, blasted his union’s support for the legislation.
“I’m furious with my S.A.G. leadership for supporting this because they’re in bed with the studios and have been in bed with the studios on a number of issues,” Urla said. “The issue of Internet freedom, the issue of the desire of major corporations to control both the highways and the content that is delivered along those highways is more important than a few residuals for a rerun of ‘Seinfeld.'”
Urla appeared in six episodes of that show, which is owned by SOPA-supporter Sony Pictures.
The Motion Picture Association of America is another major supporter of SOPA.
Similar protests were reported in San Francisco, Seattle and in Washington, D.C. through the ongoing Occupy Congress.
The hundreds that gathered in New York dwindled as Occupy activists moved the demonstration to Times Square, passing the buildings of SOPA-supporting media companies Newscorp and NBC.
According to one demonstrator, government censorship of the Occupy movement’s web broadcasts long preceded the day’s broadcasts.
Demonstrator Edward T. Hall III cited the Jan. 2 raid of Occupy Wall Street’s media headquarters in Brooklyn, which he said involved four levels of government officials.
“For everybody walking around, you may be wondering why we are out here,” Hall shouted, as the crowd repeated his words on the “People’s Mic.”
“We are afraid our Internet might get killed by this insane Congress. We are afraid that our freedom of speech might be as limited as the vilified Chinese government.”
Though the bills have lost substantial political support from the webwide attention, and SOPA was shelved this month in Congress, its congressional supporters have vowed to reintroduce it in February.