“Clearly on the left there were some interest groups that were pushing pretty strongly for this,” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican media strategist.
“It certainly is surprising to me,” said Aaron Swartz, the head of Demand Progress, a non-profit political action group involved in the lobbying effort against the bill, such as it was. “Who would have thought that Republicans would be more responsive to their constituents.”
Democrats meanwhile say that the notion that they were somehow doing the film industry’s bidding in support of election year dollars is hogwash. Jobs in film and music have been decimated due to piracy, which explains why so many of labor unions involved in production came out in favor of the bill. Tumblr, they point out, may glow from a million computer screen, but at the end of the day one of the biggest players in the New York tech scene has fewer than 60 employees..
Plus, they point out, piracy is, you know, illegal—whether its bag sellers on Canal or websites that stream movies for free.
“Look, it’s very easy to say ‘Don’t censor the Internet,’ but that’s never what this was about,” said one advocate of the bill. “You can’t put whatever the fuck you want on the Internet and then say that just because it’s now online it should be legal.”
A number of senior Hill staffers said that they had hardly heard a peep about the bill from their constituents as it made it worked its way through the legislative process over the past year. This was a far cry from other controversial pieces of legislation, which have well-heeled lobbyists and loud-voiced advocates pushing this way and that as the bill moves through various committees.
“What we have here are a bunch of people who are frankly naive about the way Congress works,” said one Hill aide.
The tech community, to a degree concedes this point, and say that they have always assumed that what happened in D.C. didn’t much affect them.
“The rule was technology would always win no matter what government put in front of it, and that’s just not true,” said Mr. Johnson. “Government has tanks and technology doesn’t. Government makes the rules and technology has to play.”
Senators Schumer and Gillibrand had been regularly meeting with members of the local tech community before the legislation unraveled and had been tweaking the bill address the tech community’s concerns, although it appears as if news of those meetings didn’t trickle down to the rank-and-file, who never heard of them.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Mr. Swartz, the head of Demand Progress, a nonprofit political action group involved in the lobbying effort against the bill, such as it was. “Who was telling them this bill was a good idea from the tech industry? I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone who had been negotiating with Congress on this bill.”
Mr. Rasiej, the founder of the NY Tech Meetup, had been in regular contact with both Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Schumer’s office, and said that “it is true that we were in touch with both Schumer and Gillibrand, but when we got to the point that Reid was making everyone aware that we are going to a cloture vote, we requested that Schumer and Gillibrand publicly state that they are no longer going to support it. They had been talking about minor adjustments. We asked them to state that they would no longer support the bill or that they would say specifically what amendments they wanted to bring.
“We made it unequivocally clear that this bill should not exist at all. Unless they were willing to publicly state what amendments they were working on behind the scenes, we weren’t going to give you the political cover. Minor modifications weren’t enough to satisfy us. The political establishment had to be punched in the face a bit and they didn’t expect that.”
A major question going forward is what the tech community will do with its new found lobbying powers. Conversations with a half-dozen organizers of the anti-PIPA effort revealed that they weren’t quite sure.
“Our group is not D.C. insiders, so we rely to some extent on what we hear. What we can do now is build consensus around what the movements are that made Wednesday happen into something we can build a campaign around,” said Holmes Wilson, a cofounder of the Participatory Democracy Foundation. “The next time one of these bills comes out we will be much faster.”
According to Mr. Johnson, this is exactly the wrong approach. Technologists need to get on the offense, he says, now that they have the momentum.
“The Internet can’t be on the defensive,” he said. “Are we going to call for a compromise, or are we going to go all in for what we want—reasonable fair use, an end to ridiculous copyright law. It may be time to go all Lessig on the place.”
The Senate, meanwhile, sounds anxious to just begin again, but given the messy demise of SOPA and PIPA, most agree it will be a long time until further antipiracy legislation is proposed.
“What it really was about was democracy in action,” said Senator Gillibrand this week. “These issues are so important and people really have to be heard on them. I think the bill was complex and it took awhile for people to really weigh in and have their voices be heard. But at the end of the day, it worked. We will know go back to the drawing board to reach this balance better.”