x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Vox populi, 2012 style

Public protests, led by internet giants and carried out online, have killed so-called anti-internet-piracy bills in the US. Electoral democracy is changing.

Strongly supported by Hollywood film studios and recording companies, new US laws to control illicit downloading of movies and music seemed to be sailing smoothly toward passage.

But the opera isn't over until the fat lady's aria has been pirated. The bills have now been shelved, probably forever.

That's fine, because they were a severe overreaction. To be sure, online theft of intellectual property is a serious problem, and legitimate sites such as iTunes, though widely used, are not the whole answer. But these bills as written would have given the US Justice Department the power to shut down offending websites at will; the implications are enormous and ominous.

What's most interesting about this, however, is what killed the bills: internet publicity campaigns led by Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Reddit and others. People use and notice these new tools; when the total of voters complaining to lawmakers - mostly by email - passed 10 million, the bills were doomed. Democracy, and not just in the US, is changing.