The Stop Online Piracy Act seemed destined for passage when it first surfaced in the House of Representatives in 2011. Intended to discourage illegal copyright violations, SOPA would have given private entities the power to blacklist websites at will. It would have violated the due process rights of thousands of users who could have seen their sites disappear from the internet. And it would have allowed banks to freeze financial deposits to the accounts of website owners, potentially forcing falsely accused internet enterprises out of business.
Supporters claimed that SOPA was the only way to effectively fight online piracy. If it had passed, corporations (with the help of the courts) would have become the arbiters of what is and isn't lawful online activity, with millions of internet users swept in their nets as collateral damage.
But on January 18, 2012, thousands of websites went dark to protest SOPA and its companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act. Wikipedia, reddit, BoingBoing, Free Press and Save the Internet were among the many participants in the protest, which created such a backlash that both bills were shelved.
This remarkable turn of events demonstrated the power of online organizing. But SOPA likely won't be the last time that powerful Hollywood studios and media companies use their Washington connections to try to slip through legislation that threatens the open internet.