Late on Friday night, the White House released a statement announcing that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” That’s a huge shift, and it came in response to a petition asking President Obama to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, which would give content providers sweeping new tools to crack down on copyright infringement. True, the White House statement doesn’t oppose SOPA directly, but it’s a fairly clear condemnation of the flaws critics have pointed to in the bill. (See here for a basic rundown of what SOPA is, and why it’s generated so much controversy.)
It’s also a sign that momentum on online-piracy legislation is shifting dramatically. Just six months ago, these bills seemed all but inevitable. The Senate version of SOPA, the Protect IP Act, was being held up by one lonely senator, Ron Wyden, and most of the bill’s backers were confident of eventual passage. But critics and tech exports started pointing out that these bills could impinge on free speech and disrupt the workings of the Internet. Online communities like Tumblr and Reddit organized loud, boisterous, and often clever campaigns — the document-sharing site Scribd, for instance, made a billion pages vanish to protest the bill — and public opinion swung sharply. A Reddit campaign managed to persuade Paul Ryan to oppose the bill, for instance.