All Four GOP Presidential Candidates Come Out Against SOPA at the CNN Debate in South Carolina

At tonight’s debate in South Carolina, the remaining 4 candidates for the Republican nomination for president were asked if they supported the Stop Online Piracy Act. Speaking in turn, they all came out against it, albeit with caveats about its current form.

An unprecedented day of online protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate and the resulting coverage on cable and broadcast news networks finally brought one of the most important questions about the future of the Internet into a presidential debate. Video via Mediaite is below. (Hat tip Ben Doernberg).

First, all due credit to the producers for taking a question on from Twitter, and to ‘s John King for disclosing that CNN’s parent company supports it when he asked it. It was about time for the candidates to get asked about SOPA at one of these debates. Questions about the Internet or digital innovation have been largely missing in action to date.

In answer, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came out strongly against SOPA. “You’re asking a conservative about the economic interests of Hollywood?” Gingrich said. “I’m weighing it. I’m not rushing in. I’m trying to think through all of the many fond left-wing people who are so eager to protect. On the other hand, you have virtually everybody who’s technologically advanced including Google and YouTube and Facebook and all the folks who say this is going to totally mess up the Internet and the bill in its current form is written badly and leads to a range of censorship that is totally unacceptable. Well, I favor freedom! And I think that if you — if we have a patent office, we have copyrighted law. If a company finds it has genuinely been infringed upon, it has the right to sue — but the idea we’re going to preemptively have the government start censoring the Internet on behalf of giant corporations, economic interests, strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do.”

“The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive,” said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who agreed with “everything” Gingrich said. “The truth of the matter is that the law as written is far too intrusive, far too expensive, far too threatening to freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet,” Romney said. “It would have a potentially depressing impact on one of the fastest growing industries in America, which is the Internet. At the same time, we care very deeply about intellectual content going across the Internet. If we can find a way to very narrowly go after those people who are pirating, we’ll do that. A very broad law which gives the government the power to start stepping into the Internet and saying who can pass what to whom, I think that’s a mistake. I’d say no, I’m standing for freedom.”

“Freedom and the Constitution bring factions together. This is a good example,” said Congressman Ron Paul, explaining why SOPA and its companion bill in the Senate have bipartisan opposition and noting that he was one of the first Congressmen to oppose it. “This bill is not going to pass,” Paul said. “But watch out for the next one! I am pleased that the attitude is sort of mellowed up here, because the Republicans unfortunately have been on the wrong side of this issue. This is a good example on why it’s good to have somebody that can look at civil liberties and work with coalitions and bring people together. Freedom and the constitution bring factions together. I think this is a good example.”

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum said that he doesn’t support SOPA but that more needs to be done to protect intellectual property from offshore pirates. He also observed that he didn’t know where the idea that anything should be free on the Internet came from. (Fortunately, no one on stage suggested that he google it.)

So here’s the question: Now, Santorum, Romney and Gingrich have publicly come out all against these bills. If asked last week, would they have given the same answers? I’ve been frustrated that so few questions about the Internet and technology have been asked. Clearly, the political calculus around supporting them has shifted. At least Ron Paul is consistent; he — and Rep Michele Bachmann — came out against SOPA weeks ago.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.