Claims that “big brother” would oversee the Internet infuriate bill supporters, who say their opponents employed fear-mongering and distortion to foment an online frenzy.
“They’ve misidentified this issue as an issue about your Internet, your Internet is being jeopardized,” said Mike Nugent, executive director of Creative America, a coalition of entertainment unions, movie studios and television networks. “In fact their business model is being asked to be subjected to regulation. They’re misleading their huge base.”
Misleading or not, the online community had a huge impact on members of Congress, with many saying they heard little from the entertainment industry but plenty from Internet users.
“Everyone’s online, and a lot of people online are very inclined to complain about” new fees and other problems, said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va. “It’s a culture of fairly quick mobilization.”
The bills’ champions said they purposely avoided hauling entertainment celebrities to Washington, saying they preferred to focus on how the measure would help the entire economy.
“If we brought in Hollywood stars, that would play into the other side’s narrative that this is all about Hollywood,” said Steven Tepp, who helped guide the campaign for the Chamber of Commerce. “We want to keep the focus on the reality that this is much, much broader.”
In the end, the outcome showed the lobbying world is changing, said Kathy Garmezy, an official with the Directors Guild of America, which supports the bills.
“Of course you say to yourself, `What can you change?’” she said. “I don’t think we’ve come to conclusions or closure.”
Participants say last week’s online protests were spawned last fall, as Congress was writing the bills and Internet users started chatting and emailing about them.
The blogging service Tumblr called attention to the measures on its website in November. Other efforts also garnered attention, including a drive by owners to remove their domain names from GoDaddy.com, which sells domain names and was a supporter of the anti-piracy legislation.
Among the first to publicly say they would darken their sites on Wednesday were Reddit and Wikipedia.
“Like most things on the Internet, it was very unorganized and chaotic,” said Erik Martin, Reddit’s general manager.
In terms of their Washington presence, online businesses are adolescents compared to the well-established industries they are battling.
According to Maplight, a nonpartisan group that analyzes money’s role in politics, current senators have received $14.4 million over the past six years from entertainment interest groups supporting the online piracy bills, seven times the $2 million they got from Internet groups opposing the legislation.
The differences are also stark when it comes to lobbying.