The Internet flexed its collective muscle this week and Washington took to its heels and ran for it.
The New York Times reported that 115,000 Web sites took part in a digital campaign to persuade viewers to contact their representatives in Washington and voice opposition to two anti-piracy bills Internet firms believed would stifle free speech and innovation on the World Wide Web.
Frankly, these were lousy bills. The Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA, and the Protect IP Act -- IP standing for Intellectual Property -- would have allowed a content provider, such as a movie studio, to go to a judge and, with a cease and desist order, force service providers to stop doing business with Internet firms suspected of content piracy -- selling movies, for example, without paying royalties.
To explain the bills, it was often pointed out that the laws were primarily focused on foreign companies that were suspected of intellectual piracy.
It is vexing, to say the least, to have the rationale behind a bad bill be the point that most of the time it would affect foreigners, as if there was nothing wrong with an unconstitutional law as long as it singled out people who don't deserve due process, anyway.
On the other hand, better control over piracy is not just an evil necessity. Creators of music, movies, art, and literature are scrambling to get control of digital commerce, which occurs in the aptly termed "cyberspace" -- a universe that resembles the Wild West much of the time. At their own convenience, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Craigslist, eBay, and others will volunteer for the role of Internet vigilante. On the other hand, the current debate shows a distinct dividing line between content providers and Internet servers.
It is also crystal clear that Google and friends, when fired up, can turn Washington on its heels pronto. More than 3 million e-mails were sent to Washington based a one day of Internet firms promoting their cause. That caused enough legislators to back off Thursday to squelch the bills right then and there. That's not bad for one day of work.
In international markets Friday, the Nikkei 225 index rose 1.47 percent and while the Shanghai composite index added 1 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong gained 0.84 percent and the Sensex in India rose 0.57 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index gained 0.59 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain was flat, dropping 0.08 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany shed 0.15 percent. The CAC 40 in France lost 0.4 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 lost 0.21 percent.