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Durbin goes to ground during SOPA/PIPA protest

Thursday, Jan 19, 2012 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Yesterday saw an outpouring of opposition to the vile SOPA/PIPA legislation. Several members of the Illinois congressional delegation contacted me to say that they were withdrawing their support or announcing that they were opposed. Others announced opposition to local media. And this movement wasn’t just confined to Illinois

It appeared by Wednesday evening that Congress would follow Bank of America, Netflix and Verizon as the latest institution to change course in the face of a netizen revolt.

Legislation that just weeks ago had overwhelming bipartisan support and had provoked little scrutiny generated a grass-roots coalition on the left and the right. Wikipedia made its English-language content unavailable, replaced with a warning: “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” Visitors to Reddit found the site offline in protest. Google’s home page was scarred by a black swatch that covered the search engine’s label.

* The online protest was so intense that it knocked several Senate websites offline

Around 11 a.m. PT [yesterday], the rush of visitors looking for ways to contact their members of Congress overwhelmed several Web pages of individual senators. […]

The amount of traffic “temporarily shut down our Web site,” Sen. Ron Wyden, the leading opponent of the Protect IP Act, wrote on Twitter.

By noon PT, the Senate’s Web sites were loading again, but slowly or with difficulty. The Web site of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who’s a sponsor of Protect IP, was generating a 500 server error.

Other Senate Web pages displayed this message: “Sorry, the web page you have requested is experiencing technical difficulties. The Webmaster has been alerted. You will be automatically redirected to the home page after 10 seconds.”

* But not everybody was happy with yesterday’s actions

In one early sign that the blackouts and protests would have an effect, the MPAA yesterday characterized them as “stunts.” The group’s chairman, Chris Dodd, took a thinly veiled swipe at Wikipedia by denouncing the protests as “an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on [the sites] for information and [who] use their services.”

* Chris Dodd is a former Democratic US Senator and is a longtime friend of US Sen. Dick Durbin. Sen. Durbin is still listed as a co-sponsor of this legislation. And despite a promise by his press person yesterday, Durbin’s office never did get back to me about why he is still supporting this goofy bill. He did, however, send a form letter to an Illinois blogger

Effective enforcement of intellectual property laws is critical to the encouragement of innovation and the creation of jobs. In recent years, we have seen a proliferation of Internet websites that are devoted to the unauthorized distribution and sale of pirated and counterfeit goods. These websites deprive innovators and businesses of revenue and result in the loss of American jobs. In addition, these websites present a public health concern when they sell counterfeit, adulterated, or misbranded pharmaceutical products.

I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers this issue in the coming months.

* Let me make something very clear here. I hate pirates. I publish a copyrighted newsletter, and I have had to take action against people who posted material from that newsletter online.

But pirates, by very definition, operate outside the law. They’re gonna be with us pretty much no matter what. Stomping on the 1st Amendment and breaking the Internet in order to stop some pirates who will find another way to evade the law anyway seems pretty stupid to me. In other words, Congress shouldn’t mess with people like me in order to get at the pirates. It’s insane.

* Here is a good summary of some of this bill’s harmful impact

1. Guilty until proven innocent. One huge issue with the ways these bills are written is that you don’t necessarily have to be a proven violator of copyright infringement, all you have to do is be accused. An accusation alone is enough to cause detrimental harm to your business. You could lose your domain, have your website shut down and even be sued. All with no warning.

2. You’re held responsible for your user content. If you have any part of a website, blog or social networking page that allows for users to submit content, you will be responsible for what they submit. For example, if you have a blog and allow comments, you’ll be responsible for monitoring them to make sure you don’t have any pirated content submitted or links provided to sites that contain pirated content. Or, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll be responsible for monitoring your followers’ posts on your page to make sure they don’t have forbidden content. Can you imagine how difficult this will be?

3. Social networking as we know it will change. We all use social networking to build our businesses, but if these bills are passed, social networking sites will be forced to drastically censor their sites, limiting the content that can be shared and changing the way we use them for our businesses.

4. Where to sell your items? If you rely on sites like Etsy, Ebay or even Facebook to sell your items, you’ll be up a creek as they’ll be forced to shut down to avoid prosecution. Each of these sites contain photos submitted by users, the problem is, there would be no way for them to inspect every single photo uploaded to their sites to make sure it has the appropriate copyrights.

* And I couldn’t agree more with this

The world has changed. The way that people discover and purchase new content has changed. It’s a new world. They should try living in it — and continuing to prosper in it — instead of trying to shove it back the way it was when Groucho Marx still had a hit TV show.


Get a clue, Senator Durbin. Man up and tell your old buddy Dodd that legacy media shouldn’t be allowed to write legislation that regulates new media. And, trust me, I will never forget this vote. Ever.


  1. - Gregor - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 7:10 am:

    I’ve always liked Durbin and he usually votes my way, but I’m puzzled and disappointed at his support on this. It’s a terrible idea, senator. You need to control-z out of this.

  2. - bored now - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 7:13 am:

    the tech abilities, let alone awareness, of our senators and congressmen and women is abysmal. even the newer members, according to the cdt, aren’t adept at the technology. so it should hardly surprise us that they don’t understand what’s at stake.

    but it’s worse. high tech companies spend less on lobbying washington than religious bodies. according to a november pew report, religious groups spent slightly less than $400 million to influence lawmakers on more than 300 issues. even when you include old-line companies (like att and verizon), tech spends less than half of that — and the focus is more on things like mergers than on the regulatory environment.

    the fact is that the people in washington making the laws have less experience with technology than the rest of the country (and much of the experience that most lawmakers have is with their blackberries, which i wouldn’t consider a HIGH tech product).

    you would think that tech companies would be spending a lot more on lobbying washington, except that most people working in technology don’t think that washington has any influence on their work. so yesterday’s reaction was predictable. the movie and record companies are fighting for their lives and the internet is clearly a threat to their business model. you can hardly blame dick durbin for not understanding the issues here. he’s not alone. only one side of this issue has really been paying attention…

  3. - Lincoln Parker - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 9:11 am:

    Bored Now makes a great point. Many politicians & judges are out of touch with the realities of modern technology.

    The MPAA & RIAA are a joke, but they are great at lobbying. They cry wolf at every new technological development instead of adapting their antiquated business models.

  4. - Shore - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 9:46 am:

    Durbin $315,000 from the tv/media industry in donations since 1989. $285,000 in donations from LA. Hmm.

  5. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 9:48 am:

    I agree that this law needs to be rewritten or dumped; however, the immediate flip of mostly uninformed Congresscritters from for to against yesterday earns those folks no points from me. If they were truly concerned about this bill, there was plenty of criticism of the bill over the last few weeks (and months) for them to wake up and revise their positions. I doubt that most of them know what is in this bill, and they were more than happy to ignore the opponents concerns right up until yesterday. That they waited until their offices were swamped by calls and e-mails is hypocritical, especially considering that many of them were shouting “read the bill” about Heath Care reform.

  6. - Cheryl44 - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 9:54 am:

    Somewhat related (as in, what are they thinking?) The Supremes have ruled it’s possible to re-copyright works in the public domain.

  7. - Anonymous - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 9:54 am:

    ==Get a clue, Senator Durbin. Man up…===
    Well, good luck with that. On the few occasions when I’ve contacted Durbin’s office over an issue, I’ve rarely gotten the courtesy of a response, or got one of the canned spin letters that didn’t even address the issue at hand.

  8. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 10:38 am:

    Shore, that’s a dangerous game you’re playing. Plus, if you do the math you’ll see that $315K over 20 years is like $15K per year, hardly a huge sum. I don’t think Durbin has been bought by the tv/media industry. Try again.

  9. - RetiredStateEmployee - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 10:44 am:

    The premise that the media companies are losing money because of this may be overstated at least if one looks at the facts. From the July issue of Scientific American,, it has been shown that illegal copies of works do not necessarily decrease sales. In fact, in some cases sales increase. Maybe it’s more an issue with the quality of the product than illegal reproduction. I know that’s true from my perspective of music. If I listen to it and it’s crap, I am not going to buy it. But if it’s good, I purchase it. And there is a lot of crap out there.

  10. - Just Observing - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 11:22 am:

    That’s a pathetic attack by Dodd — he sits there and blasts Wikipedia for doing a disservice to those that rely on Wikipedia for information. Wikipedia is a not-for-profit, largely volunteer community — they owe nothing to the world and a one day blackout hardly brough the world to its knees. What has Dodd done to help Wikipedia? Edit and contribute to articles? Donate money? Doubtful.

  11. - Shore - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 11:32 am:

    Yesterday I wondered aloud where Rahm was on this issue given the entertainment’s strong support for his mayoral campaign, his brothers position in Hollywood and his dc connections. Later that day a politico story appears where lo and behold Rahm’s brother is noted as one of the major Hollywood democratic donors/moguls with a lot at stake in this.

    If you read that politico story you also saw that Hollywood is a key democratic fundraising constituency so while Durbin might not be taking as much from Hollywood as he does from other groups, they are a big source of democratic support in addition to what Rich noted.

  12. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 11:40 am:

    Let’s not forget that SOPA is opposed by Facebook, and all the time that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have invested in Friending their constituents.

    Wanna send a message to Congress?

    Start “unfriending” them.

  13. - Frank - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 12:13 pm:

    Exactly! I tried contacting Durbin early yesterday to ask him to stop sponsoring this lunacy. I also contacted Mark Kirk and Timothy Johnson. Johnson had a real person answer the phone, took my comments and asked a couple of pertinent questions. Neither of the great congressmen from Illinois - Durbin or Kirk - bothered to answer the form I sent to them nor the voice message. Not even the normal goofy form letter.

  14. - OneMan - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 12:16 pm:

    If you vote for SOPA or PIPA suffice to say I will not vote for you, circulate petitions for you, put up a yard sign for you, find other locations for yard signs for you nor donate $1 to your campaign. If there is an alternative to you in a primary will do all of those for them. If there is an alternative to in the general election I will do the same for them.

  15. - expat - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 1:24 pm:

    Classic Durbin. Eighty-percent of the time, he’s great. But, when it comes to certain issues with certain interests backing them, he’s shamelessly unreasonable and unaccountable.

  16. - Cook County Commoner - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 1:25 pm:

    Before the feds seek to safeguard IP via the internet, they should fix the system used to enforce old-style IP and copyright infringement on American soil: namely, the hopelessly antiquated US litigation system. My job includes reviewing legal billing involving trademark and copyright infringement, and the legal costs are astronomical, not to mention the snail-like pace of the system. It’s an exclusive playground for wealthy companies and insurance. I pity the small rights holder seeking to enforce his or her intellectual property in court against a well-funded infringer. And with civil remedies built into PIPA and SOFA including a right to attorneys fees, the attorneys were probably larger contributors in favor of this legislation than Hollywood and the music industry. This stuff is too complicated for politicians with their hands always out. Some sort of industry mandated self-policing is a much better avenue than legislation and lawyers. (On a more cynical note, are PIPA and SOFA maybe the first attempts by government to control the only free medium of global communication?)

  17. - dupage dan - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 4:05 pm:

    Durbin lost me when he maligned the armed forces of the US at the outset of the war on terror. That came at a time when I began to realize that many on the left, of which I was one, were knee jerk against the armed forces and mindlessly against any effort to agressively protect the citizens. Durbin’s rant on the Senate floor showed me his true colors. His failure to respond to my letter complaining about his action sealed it. He is not great. He is an idealogue attack dog. He may temper his views at times but the rant exposed him for what he was. A major reason why I turned to the light.

    I know little of this current issue except to recall that efforts to stem copyright infringement of music has not stopped the free dissemination - some have argued that it is the free access that is keeping the moribund music industry afloat - not its’ dismal sales. It seems counterintuitive but more free access apparently creates more interest which results in more sales. Who’d a thunk?

  18. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Jan 19, 12 @ 4:10 pm:

    ===Durbin lost me when he maligned the armed forces of the US at the outset of the war on terror.===

    He did nothing of the sort Dan. He rightfully called out the abuses at Abu Graihb. I was proud of him for that, having the guts to stand up and say it from the well of the Senate: this is NOT how the United States treats its enemies. We do NOT condone torture.

    But of course all everyone remembers is an unfortunate comparison to Nazis and Pol Pot, and not the substance of his courageous remarks.

  19. - John Poshepny - Friday, Jan 20, 12 @ 12:01 am:

    Here at Eastern Illinois University three students (Including myself) are so worried about the overreaching affects of this that we decided to do a letter writing drive tomorrow during the day.

  20. - Traylor - Friday, Jan 20, 12 @ 10:10 am:

    I think Durbin is a good man, and he has been a good Senator, but he never met a federal regulation he didn’t like. He also has a very confusing website that has hundreds of pictures and links but almost no useful information, and nothing about PIPA and his stand on it. Kirk posted a message on his home page opposing it, as did Rep. Dold (opposed to SOPA).

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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