Aaron Swartz on the Fight for Internet Freedom
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I mean, this really was unprecedented. Don’t take my word for it, but ask former Senator Chris Dodd, now the chief lobbyist for Hollywood. He admitted, after he lost, that he had masterminded the whole evil plan. And he told The New York Times he had never seen anything like it during his many years in Congress. And everyone I’ve spoken to agrees. The people rose up, and they caused a sea change in Washington—not the press, which refused to cover the story—just coincidentally, their parent companies all happened to be lobbying for the bill; not the politicians, who were pretty much unanimously in favor of it; and not the companies, who had all but given up trying to stop it and decided it was inevitable. It was really stopped by the people, the people themselves. They killed the bill dead, so dead that when members of Congress propose something now that even touches the Internet, they have to give a long speech beforehand about how it is definitely not like SOPA; so dead that when you ask congressional staffers about it, they groan and shake their heads like it’s all a bad dream they’re trying really hard to forget; so dead that it’s kind of hard to believe this story, hard to remember how close it all came to actually passing, hard to remember how this could have gone any other way. But it wasn’t a dream or a nightmare; it was all very real.
And it will happen again. Sure, it will have yet another name, and maybe a different excuse, and probably do its damage in a different way. But make no mistake: The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those politicians’ eyes hasn’t been put out. There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who want to clamp down on the Internet. And to be honest, there aren’t a whole lot who have a vested interest in protecting it from all of that. Even some of the biggest companies, some of the biggest Internet companies, to put it frankly, would benefit from a world in which their little competitors could get censored. We can’t let that happen.
Now, I’ve told this as a personal story, partly because I think big stories like this one are just more interesting at human scale. The director J.D. Walsh says good stories should be like the poster forTransformers. There’s a huge evil robot on the left side of the poster and a huge, big army on the right side of the poster. And in the middle, at the bottom, there’s just a small family trapped in the middle. Big stories need human stakes. But mostly, it’s a personal story, because I didn’t have time to research any of the other part of it. But that’s kind of the point. We won this fight because everyone made themselves the hero of their own story. Everyone took it as their job to save this crucial freedom. They threw themselves into it. They did whatever they could think of to do. They didn’t stop to ask anyone for permission. You remember how Hacker News readers spontaneously organized this boycott of GoDaddy over their support of SOPA? Nobody told them they could do that. A few people even thought it was a bad idea. It didn’t matter. The senators were right: The Internet really is out of control. But if we forget that, if we let Hollywood rewrite the story so it was just big company Google who stopped the bill, if we let them persuade us we didn’t actually make a difference, if we start seeing it as someone else’s responsibility to do this work and it’s our job just to go home and pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watchTransformers, well, then next time they might just win. Let’s not let that happen.