Until the American public began to rally against it, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its counterpart in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), may have been some of the least-disputed pieces of legislation to cross the U.S. Congress this session.
Both the House and Senate bills have scores of bipartisan support, ranging from conservative heavyweight Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., a well-known liberal and current chair of the Democratic National Committee. While the legislation -- which aims to combat copyright infringement by allowing U.S. authorities to take legal action against foreign Web sites that specialize in trafficking intellectual property and counterfeit goods, as well as sites accused of enabling them -- may have sailed through Congress, Web companies and Internet junkies have broadened the debate, recasting it from one about piracy and digital copyright protection to a movement to defend Internet freedom.
Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia, read Wikipedia.org on Wednesday, which disabled much of its Web site for 24 hours along with Boing Boing, Reddit, Wired and hundreds of others to protest the anti-piracy bills.
On its blacked out web page, the site included a box for users' to enter their ZIP codes in order to contact their local representatives about the bills.
The House and Senate representatives who support SOPA and PIPA may be wide-ranging, but some of the notable individuals who have signed on -- and even some who have spoken out against it -- may be surprising.
Support: Democrats Slightly Outweigh Republicans
Forty-two Democratic members of the House and Senate have expressed their support of the anti-piracy legislation, according to a comprehensive chart compiled by ProPublica.org, which assembled its database based on the proposed bills' sponsorship and the members' voting record in relation to the current bills' precursors and alternatives.
The chart also contains the amount of campaign contributions each senator or representative has recently received from entertainment industry, which has reportedly invested millions in lobbying to fight for the passage of SOPA and PIPA.
The public may have framed the debate as one to protect Americans' freedom of speech and expression, but some of Congress' most liberal members have lent their support to the anti-piracy bills.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Franken, who defended the importance of Internet freedom when the House attempted to defund the Federal Communication Commission'snet neutrality enforcement last year, was one of the 40 senators to co-sponsor PIPA.
We must protect American jobs from piracy, which has become rampant on the Internet. We don't tolerate shoplifters in stores and we should not tolerate them online, Franken wrote in a letter to a constituent explaining the need for PIPA, available on OpenCongress. Right now, a company has no way to enforce its rights if it finds that its products are being pirated or counterfeited on a website hosted overseas.
Franken received almost $89,000 from the television, film and recording industry during the 2010 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the 2008 cycle, the same industries donated more than $780,000 toward his reelection bid. Franken worked in the entertainment sector for decades before entering politics.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Boxer, who has been representing California in the Senate for 19 years, also co-sponsored PIPA. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter explaining Boxer's position in December, her spokesman said the senator has a long record of working to protect intellectual property and fight piracy.
Boxer has received a substantial amount of support from the entertainment industry in recent years. In 2010, the senator received more than $570,000 in campaign contributions from the television, film and recording industry, while in 2008 her re-election campaign received $327,000.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
Wasserman Schultz is one of the 31 co-sponsors of SOPA, a position that conservative blogger Erick Erickson predicted may backfire with her constituents come relection.
I wonder if the left feels that way about Debbie Wasserman Schultz?, Erickson wrote in a post on Red State, where he vows to do anything in his power to bring down Tea Party Republicans who support SOPA come reelection.
Although Wasserman Schultz has not released a statement about her stance on SOPA, a spokesman for the congresswoman told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday that Wasserman Schultz feels strongly that we need to find a balanced compromise before passing the legislation.
Wasserman Schultz received $70,600 of campaign contributions from the entertainment industry in 2010, compared to $37,900 in 2008.
Libertarian's Stand Against Anti-Piracy Bills
Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY
Both Sen. Paul and his father, Rep. Ron Paul have lambasted the anti-piracy bills as laws that would essentially give the federal government and certain companies the power to regulate and censor the Internet.
The House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's PROTECT IP Act kill jobs, regulates the Internet, and gives the Federal government and Hollywood movie studios the right to censor and shut down websites -- including social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, Rand wrote on the online petition dontcensorthenet.com.
Paul, who has only served one year in the Senate, received only $14,300 in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry in 2010, substantially less than many of his peers. Although current Republican presidential contender Ron Paul received more than $130,000 from the industry in 2008, in 2010 he received a paltry $500 in campaign contributions from television, film and recording companies.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
In what some say may have been the result of an intense Reddit campaign to prevent Ryan's re-election this year, the chairman of the House Chairman Committee issued a rebuke against SOPA earlier this month.
The internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse, Ryan wrote in a statement available on his Web site. I do not support [SOPA] in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House.
Ryan received $24,250 from the entertainment industry during his 2010 campaign.
Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
Brown, who faces a formidable challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren this year, said he opposes the anti-piracy bills because they could hamper economic growth.
Have you seen my stance on SOPA and PIPA? I'm going to vote no, the Internet is too important to our economy, and the legislation as it stands provides too much room for misinterpretation, he wrote on Facebook, according to ProPublica.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Pelosi is a shining example of how campaign contributions do not always correspond with congressmen's stance on SOPA and PIPA. The longtime California representative, who has received almost $170,000 in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry since 2008, voiced her opposition to SOPA only weeks after it was introduced in the House.
Need to find a better solution than #SOPA #DontBreakTheInternet, Pelosi tweeted in response to a question about her position on November 17. That same day, her office released a statement saying that while the congresswoman supports protecting intellectual property, the Internet, human rights, and cybersecurity communities have raised concerns that SOPA doesn't strike the right balance that protects the needs of copyright holders and Internet users alike.
To learn more about which congressmen oppose and support SOPA/PIPA, click here.
Ashley covers U.S. politics for the International Business Times, with a focus on civil liberties, women's issues and campaign finance. Her work has also appeared in The...