We were pleased to watch last week as the hot breath of Americans, angry over the possible hobbling of the free-ranging Internet, prevailed over the chill wind of censorship.
A pair of bills, one in the U.S. Senate and one in the House of Representatives, seem destined for failure.
These bills, according to supporters, have the laudable goal of
preventing websites from illegally profiting from copyrighted material
such as music and movies.
But critics, chief among them Oregon's senior U.S. senator, Democrat
Ron Wyden, contend the bills - known best by their initials, PIPA and
SOPA - would do a lot more than that.
The problem, opponents say, is that PIPA or SOPA would make websites
such as YouTube and Facebook, which allow users to post content,
legally responsible for posts that contain copyrighted material.
Wyden, along with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has drafted an
alternative bill. Their Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital
Trade Act (OPEN Act), the legislators say, would protect intellectual
property without imposing restrictions that constitute, in effect,
The OPEN Act is a far better option than the two other bills, largely
because it more specifically targets the most egregious copyright
thieves, many of them based outside the U.S.
We hope, though, that in practice the Issa-Wyden legislation delivers
what it promises: real protection for the owners of copyrighted
Congress would be remiss if, in trying to uphold Americans' free speech
rights, it neglected those who have legally protected their own
The furor over SOPA and PIPA has, it seems to us, led to some slight exaggerations as to what's at stake.
If you believe some of the more hysterical claims, those bills threaten the First Amendment itself.
Yet even if PIPA or SOPA would sound the death knell for YouTube, that
hardly constitutes the end of the Internet as a bastion of free
Let's say there are two bloggers. One thinks President Obama is the
worst president in U.S. history, the other argues that Mitt Romney,
were he elected to replace Obama, would lead the country to disaster.
There's no reason to believe that any of the copyright-protection bills
- including PIPA and SOPA - would dissuade either hypothetical blogger
from posting his opinion, ad nauseum.
Conspiracy theories aside, the debate over copyright infringement
online has proven, yet again, that ordinary Americans can exert
considerable clout when they're sufficiently aroused.
That power, combined with savvy political leadership from the likes of
Wyden, can curtail the government's more draconian schemes.
It's worth remembering, though, that expressing your opinion that
something's rotten in Salem or Washington, D.C., rarely requires the
theft of a popular pop song or movie.