Hacking Politics

How Geeks, Progressives, the Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed Up to Defeat SOPA and Save the Internet


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About the Book

Hacking Politics is a firsthand account of how a ragtag band of activists and technologists overcame a $90 million lobbying machine to defeat the most serious threat to Internet freedom in memory. The book is a revealing look at how Washington works today – and how citizens successfully fought back.

Written by the core Internet figures – video gamers, Tea Partiers, tech titans, lefty activists and ordinary Americans among them – who defeated a pair of special interest bills called SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) and PIPA (“Protect IP Act”), Hacking Politics provides the first detailed account of the glorious, grand chaos that led to the demise of that legislation and helped foster an Internet-based network of amateur activists.

Included are more than thirty original contributions from across the political spectrum, featuring writing by Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz; Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School; novelist Cory Doctorow; Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA.); Jamie Laurie (of the alt-rock/hip-hop group The Flobots); Ron Paul; Mike Masnick, CEO and founder of Techdirt; Kim Dotcom, internet entrepreneur; Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder and co-director of Fight for the Future; Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit; Nicole Powers of Suicide Girls; Josh Levy, Internet Campaign Director at Free Press, and many more.

Publication May 2013 • 316 pages • ebook with more than 100 supplementary photographs
Paperback ISBN 978-1-939293-04-6 • ebook ISBN 978-1-939293-06-0

About the Editors

David Moon is a Washington-based policy attorney, political consultant and issue advocate. He serves as the program director for the million-member progressive Internet organization Demand Progress. In that capacity, Moon works strategically to help build a political voice for the organization’s issues.

Patrick Ruffini is founder and president at Engage, a leading digital firm in Washington, D.C. During the SOPA fight, he founded “Don’t Censor the Net” to defeat governmental threats to Internet freedom. For more than a decade, Ruffini has been a leader at the intersection of technology and politics. Prior to starting Engage, Ruffini led digital campaigns for the Republican Party, serving as eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee, and as webmaster for the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign.

David Segal was elected to the city council of Providence, R.I. as a Green in 2002, and then won a seat as a Democrat in the Rhode Island state legislature in 2006. While a state representative, Segal pushed numerous progressive initiatives involving the environment, progressive taxation, affordable housing, civil rights and civil liberties. He has written for many publications, among them the New York Times and Boston Globe.

In the Media

Firedoglake.com book salon, October 20th 2013

SuicideGirls, May 28th 2013

Mediabistro, May 20th 2013

BoingBoing, May 16th 2013

Providence Phoenix, April 3rd 2013

Buzzfeed, January 18th 2013

Read an Excerpt

For Me, It All Started With a Phone Call

by Aaron Swartz



For me, it all started with a phone call.

It was way back in September 2010, when I got a phone call from my friend Peter.

“Aaron,” he said. “There’s an amazing bill you have to take a look at.”

“What is it?” I said.

“It’s called COICA. The Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeiting Act.”

“Oh, Peter,” I said. “I don’t care about copyright law. Maybe you’re right, maybe Hollywood is right, but either way is it really such a big deal? I’m not going to waste my life fighting over a little issue like copyright. Health care. Financial reform. Those are the sorts of issues I work on. Not something obscure like copyright.”

I could hear Peter grumbling. “Look, I don’t have time to argue with you. But it doesn’t matter for right now. Because this isn’t a bill about copyright.”

“It’s not?”

“No, it’s a bill about freedom of speech.”

Now I was listening.

Peter explained what all of you have probably long since learned. That this bill would let the government devise a list of websites that Americans weren’t allowed to visit. Over the next day, I came up with lots of ways to try to explain this to people. I said it was a Great Firewall of America. I said it was an Internet blacklist. I said it was online censorship. But I think it’s worth taking a step back, putting aside the rhetoric, and thinking about just how radical this bill really was.

Yes, there are lots of times where the government makes rules about speech. If you slander a private figure. If you buy a television ad that lies to people. If your wild party plays booming music all night. In all these cases, the government can stop you.

But this was something radically different. It wasn’t that the government went to people and asked them to take down particular material that was illegal. It shut down whole websites. Essentially, it stopped Americans from communicating entirely with certain other groups.

There’s nothing really like it in US law. If you play loud music all night, the government doesn’t slap you with an order requiring you play mute for the next couple weeks. They don’t say nobody can make any more noise inside your house. There’s a specific complaint, which they ask you to specifically remedy, and then your life goes on.

The closest I can find is a case where the government was at war with an adult book store. The place kept selling porn, the government kept getting it declared illegal, and then, frustrated, they decided to shut the whole bookstore down. But even that was declared unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment.

You might say: surely COICA would get declared unconstitutional too!

But I knew that if the Supreme Court had one blind spot around the First Amendment, more than anything else — more than slander or libel; more than pornography; more, even, than child pornography — it was copyright. When it came to copyright it was like the part of the justices’ brains shut off and they totally forgot about the First Amendment. You got the sense that, deep down, they didn’t even think the First Amendment applied when copyright was at issue.

Which means that if you wanted to censor the Internet, if you wanted to come up with a way the government could shut down access to particular websites — this bill might just be the only way to do it. If you said it was about pornography, it’d probably get overturned by the courts — just like that adult bookstore case. But by claiming it was about copyright, it might just sneak through.

And that was terrifying, because copyright was absolutely everywhere. If you wanted to shut down WikiLeaks, it’d be a bit of a stretch to claim you were doing it because they were distributing child pornography. But it wouldn’t be hard at all to claim they were violating copyright.

Because everything is copyrighted. These words are copyrighted. And it’s so easy to accidentally copy something. So easy, in fact, that we found the leading Republican supporter of COICA, Orrin Hatch, had illegally copied a bunch of code into his own Senate website. If even Orrin Hatch’s Senate website was found to be violating copyright law, what’s the chance they wouldn’t be able to pin something on any of us?

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