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Who cares about Reddit? Historical institutionalism and the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT Intellectual Property Act

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In May 2011, the PROTECT Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) was introduced to the United States Senate boasting 31 sponsors from both the Democratic and Republican Party. By January 2012 PIPA, along with counterpart in the House of Representatives known as the Stop Online Piracy Act was indefinitely shelved. Many have attributed this dramatic shift to the widespread backlash against the bills from online activists. The case thus suggests that the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool in allowing ordinary citizens to displace the entrenched power of special interests groups. However, given the role of activists and their rhetorical framing strategies in the defeat of the bills, the case also has theoretical implications for historical institutionalism. Namely, how can historical institutionalism, which favours institutions over agency, especially when explaining continuity, account for this? Can historical institutionalism account for agency, institutions, continuity and change in a unified way? This article responds in two ways. First, it argues that internet companies, not activists, were crucial in explaining the defeat of the bills. Second, it argues, it proposes a unified historical institutionalist approach to research, capable of explaining agency within institutions in institutional continuity and change.
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Keywords: Historical institutionalism; Internet; PROTECT Intellectual Property Act (PIPA); Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA); copyright

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Publication date: July 4, 2018

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