As 2011 drew to a close, SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and its Senate counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) appeared headed toward passage in congress. Now, after what’s being called “the largest online protest in Internet history,” in which more than 115,000 websites participated, legislators are walking away from the controversial bills. According to the Web site Pro Publica, SOPA/PIPA supporters outnumbered opponents 80-31 before the Jan. 18 online protest. Within 24 hours of the protest, the tide turned, with 101 opponents vs. 65 supporters.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, January 18 was a “historic” day. “EFF alone helped users send over 1,000,000 emails to Congress,” EFF officials reported. “Web traffic briefly brought down the Senate website. 162 million people visited Wikipedia and eight million looked up their representatives’ phone numbers. Google received over seven million signatures on their petition.”

In all, at least seven Senators who had co-sponsored PIPA have now abandoned the bill, and 19 Senators total came out against it. And in light of recent events, Senate leader Harry Reid said he is postponing the cloture vote in the Senate that was set for next week. The opposition in Congress comes after the White House said it would not support the bills as currently written, and pledged to support an “open” Internet. And, in one of the few moments of agreement, all of the Republican candidates for president voiced strong opposition to SOPA when asked about it at last night’s debate in Charleston, SC.

The battle, of course, is far from over as PIPA still has over 30 co-sponsors in the senate, and SOPA could very well be amended and brought forward again. There is a growing consensus, however, that with such a public outpouring against SOPA and PIPA as currently written, that the bills are unlikely to be quickly amended and moved in this session.

Meanwhile, the abrupt turnaround on SOPA and PIPA has also opened eyes on Capitol Hill as the tech and Internet industry lobbies showed considerable muscle against a long-entrenched entertainment industry lobby, something of a coming-out party that raises questions about the balance of power going forward. “Opponents of the piracy bill seem to have turned public opinion in their favor despite the considerable advantages in lobbying strength, organizational resources and media coverage enjoyed by Hollywood, the recording industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other supporters,” observed a report in the The Hill.