It seems that while I and many of my fellow writers here at pnosker.com were enjoying our time at CES, there have been a great many new developments surrounding the controversial bills SOPA and PIPA. It seems that the past few days have seen the Internet community a buzz with the talk of victory for the anti-SOPA activists against the misguided legislation. Websites like Wikipedia, Mozilla, WordPress, TwitPic, Reddit, Major League Gaming, Boing Boing and many others have even declared their intent to go dark all day on January 18th, 2012 in order to demonstrate just how damaging censorship of the Internet could be. More on that in a minute.
First, I think it is very important to acknowledge that alongside the protests of these large websites were the millions of people from the Internet community who signed the online petitions in opposition of this bill. It is in large part thanks to these people that we can celebrate this small victory over SOPA legislation which came about because of the following:
1) In a statement from the White House, President Obama said he would not support the bill. The statement, which can be read in full here, states that “Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.”
2) The provision which would screw with the DNS infrastructure, forcing Internet service providers to block access to website accused of piracy, was removed from the bill.
3) The bill as a whole was “shelved” by Congress to “address outstanding concerns.”
So does this mean that it’s time to pop the champagne and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done? To celebrate the triumph of Internet freedom and the downfall of censorship? In the words of Chuck Testa: Nope! Sorry folks but the war is far from over. While this is indeed a victory for those who believe in an open and free Internet, the bills in question have only been damaged and are far from dead. Not to mention the forces which led to the creation of the SOPA bill are still as strong and influential (or more transparently, as rich) as ever.
SOPA might be out for the time being but its counterpart, PIPA, sure isn’t. The Protect IP Act has been marketed by its supports in the Motion Picture Association of America, the Country Music Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to name a few, as a way to protect movie studios and record labels’ intellectual property. Michael O’Leary of the MPAA pits their side of the story as fighting for the “more than 2.2 million hard-working, middle-class people in all 50 states [who] depend on the entertainment industry for their jobs and many millions more [who] work in other industries that rely on intellectual property.” On the subject of pirating websites he notes that “for all these workers and their families, online content and counterfeiting by these foreign sites mean declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits.”
So how can you say these bills, which are supposed to protect intellectual property and the entertainments industry’s workers’ jobs, are harmful? Have you no regard for the American entertainment industry worker? Obviously we do. But as NetCoalition‘s Erickson retorted, “The devil is in the details. This bill reverses the policy that has been in place since the beginning of the Web, that Internet companies shouldn’t be liable, nor should they be required to police or snoop on their users.” This is why SOPA/PIPA legislation would be so damaging, because it goes way too far in “protecting intellectual property” to the point of censorship and would ultimately harm the tech industry which is one of the few areas of the US economy which has been growing.
But who would benefit from censorship? Surely even the entertainment industry can see the harmful effects that the bills would have on the Internet… so why are they still supporting it? Well it’s simple really. Even back in 1982 the entertainment industry opposed any new technology which would circulate their content to more people in a way that was out of their control. In this case I am referring to the VCR. In his article on ZDnet, David Gewirtz identifies that it was the same MPAA which fought against the VCR and “went so far as to equate it to the Boston strangler in Congressional hearings.” Citing their statement that “the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”
David points out that “as we all well know, the video rental business boomed, movie makers made tons of money, consumers got to watch movies on their own schedule, and the VCR did not strangle the film industry. And yet, the entertainment industry is still trying to strangle us. SOPA and PROTECT-IP are only the latest attempts, and even if the fuss we all make scares them away, mark my words, something similar will be back.” My fears are the same Dave. He goes on to identify exactly why this type of “anti-piracy” legislation will be back, discussing the disproportionate influence lobbyists have on politicians and the money which is to be made from all this.
Pnosker.com Associate Editor Michael Convente added that “entertainment companies have a right to have their content purchased and not pirated. But their actions for OVER A DECADE have been anti-innovation and pro-bullying.” Adding that even back in the days of Napster “the RIAA and MPAA had taken a threatening attitude toward any innovative content distribution systems online, and without the genius of Steve Jobs and iTunes, a lot of these organizations would have been out of business 5+ years ago. And yet [the entertainment industry] STILL tries to threaten the Internet economy, instead of put resources towards it or try to use [the Internet] as a great [vehicle] to distribute content.”
Because Hollywood still supports PIPA, it still represents a sizable threat to the Internet as we know it and is the reason why the “Internet blackout” is still underway. “An ‘Internet blackout’ would obviously be both drastic and unprecedented,” NetCoalition said in a statement. “We hope that the Senate will cancel its scheduled vote on PIPA so that we can get back to working with members on how to address the concerns raised by the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] and others without threatening our nation’s security or future innovation and jobs.”
Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing’s co-editor, has pleaded the Internet community that “If you want an Internet where human rights, free speech and the rule of law are not subordinated to the entertainment industry’s profits, I hope you’ll join us.” And we here at pnokser.com are in full support of this protest. It is our position that SOPA and PIPA will be very damaging to the Internet and to Internet freedom. We vehemently oppose these bills and any like them that constrain individual expression online, no matter how noble the presented intent of their origins may be.
And as always, please leave your thoughts/questions in the comments section below.