Overestimating Victory Over SOPA/PIPA

It wasn’t that long ago at all that the idea of protest on the web was the sort of thing you laughed at. Casually irritated people taking 13 seconds to sign what might be their actual name to a toothless petition with all the impact of a softly drifting soap bubble was great for shouting at the wind, but the idea that anyone would actually take an online protest or movement seriously was fantasy of the highest order.

And yet, here we are on the far side of the great internet blackout, assuming the internet is entirely made up of Google, Wikipedia and places that aggregate pictures of cats, which I have to admit is a pretty reasonable assumption. The once seemingly invulnerable legislation of SOPA and PIPA that could have changed the web as we knew it is now all but dead, and you can be forgiven for feeling like we can chalk one up for the good guys and pop open the champagne.

Which is exactly the kind of complacent, short-sighted, self-congratulatory lack of direction that will leave us having won a battle and lost the war. While everyone is deciding how we’re going to refocus our illusion of new-found authority in the world of politics and advocacy, the ground will be crumbling under our feet, and when the fall comes I fear it will be a horrible shock, leaving us far worse for a time than we might have been had SOPA just passed quietly in the night as had been intended.

No, the watch-word of today can not be success. It must be vigilance.

The faulty lesson that I fear far too many might take away from the recent success of January 18th is that it succeeded because people made a lot of noise in their online comfort zones. While this sort of focused angst carries an effect within its own echo chamber, the reason that the crusade against SOPA and PIPA worked is that enough people hit ‘em where it actually hurts.

How We Won Round 1

And, in this case, where it hurt was in the risk of politicians being labelled as in favor of censorship and inconveniencing the public during an election year. It would be a huge mistake to consider this a win against the entertainment industry, because those people got up this morning angrier and more motivated than ever. Don’t for a minute mistake capitulation today as forfeiture, and it would be an absolutely critical mistake to think that those who stayed quietly on the sidelines or parroted a tepid rejection of SOPA are anything like allies.

This can’t even really be called a win against the politicians themselves, particularly when being folksy and internet illiterate is practically a platform for some to appeal to a Baby Boomer base. This wasn’t some advancement of an ideology in a technical age. Truth be told half of the people who would have voted on this bill either genuinely have no idea what the discussion is about or actively foster an aura of idealistic, narrow-minded ignorance. This is a world where, “aww shucks I don’t know nothin’ bout this fancy internet, but I do know that this bill stops bad people from stealing from artists” is phenomenal deception for pandering to high paying special interests.

No, what we have here specifically is an accomplishment against specific legislation. This was about making enough noise to fight the right fight at the right time.

And, that’s good. These terrible constructs of law needed to go away, even though by the end SOPA had been gutted and left as toothless as a veteran hockey player. Though the fight isn’t technically over, it’s hard not to see that the PIPA and SOPA are essentially DOA, which is great for today but in the long run means virtually nothing, because the establishment doesn’t think of this as a fundamentally different copyright landscape, but as a surprising upset by chaotic and subversive forces. In short, we won the battle, but we’re still the bad guys and next time Plan 1 will be to do better at shutting dissent up in advance.

“Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

I hear people around the web breaking their arms to pat themselves on the back for winning the censorship fight as though it were a thing that was now over. These people are wondering what institution they will next irrevocably change forever, as though they were the first protesters to ever enjoy a transitory victory. That’s not how this works, and as the average American goes back to thinking about Tim Tebow, Steven Tyler and Rick Santorum, what we’re going to see is that the internet freedom fighters are still outgunned, out-organized and outspent on Capitol Hill. If the response from technology leaders and the internet public is the same next time around (assuming they still agree), then we can go ahead and just plan on losing that fight right now.

Already the entertainment industry is doing something far more threatening to politicians than making a fuss at Slate.com. They are pulling millions of dollars away from candidates who pulled support for SOPA during an election year, and they are giving that money to people who will sign anything, give up anything to get a seat in Washington. And, now that Wikipedia is back up and there’s no ominous black box across the Google logo, the people who briefly cared that their normal routine was interrupted have all but forgotten and assume that censorship is dead in America again.

One need only notice that on the very day that internet champions were winning one victory over antiquated ideas about media in the digital age, the Supreme Court handed down a decision saying that Congress could pull public domain works and re-copyright them.

It’s nice that we’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to have a voice and an impact in the public debate over legislation, but Reddit is far from being an effective lobbying organization or PAC. It’s an aberration that already people are strategizing against. There are angry conference calls happening all over the country where long-established forces are arguing about how to best make sure that what happened yesterday doesn’t happen the next time a copyright protection bill comes around.

This is a fight worth having, but it won’t succeed if it’s just reaction. Minds haven’t been changed. Ideologies are still firmly entrenched, and well funded and organized associations remain as committed as ever to seeing these kinds of bills pass. They are acting in a thousand different ways across a thousand different local, regional and global governments. Every second we spend in celebration of our public relations success is a second where the forces marshaling against a free and open internet recover, reorganize and lay the foundation for the next front in this war.

Round 2 starts yesterday.

Comments

They are pulling millions of dollars away from candidates who pulled support for SOPA during an election year, and they are giving that money to people who will sign anything, give up anything to get a seat in Washington.

And that right there highlights possibly the single biggest problem with the American political system. You can pretty much sum it up with two words: Citizens United. If you let corporations contribute massive campaign funds to political candidates with no limitations, you're just asking for trouble.

Now I'll be the first to admit that my Canadian government loves to bend over and get f*cked by the US, especially the current Harper administration. But we have that particular item taken care of. Political contributions can only be made by private citizens, and even then, there is a fixed cap of somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2000 for any one person to donate. I can't recall the exact number; it did go up slightly in recent years due to inflation. Anyway, it doesn't fix the system, and they can still take candidates to fancy lunches and other forms of bribery, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

I hope next time this fight comes 'round, more main-stream sites will join in and deny services as an act of protest. Aside from Wikipedia, all of the sites that "went dark" had a built-in audience that already opposed SOPA/PIPA. It was fortunate that the major news outlets picked up the story and aired it. It was also fortunate that big companies, like Google, were lobbying against SOPA, throwing money at the problem.

What was up with the ESA supporting this legislation? Were they trying to advocate for a bill that would help curb video game piracy?

It would be a huge mistake to consider this a win against the entertainment industry, because those people got up this morning angrier and more motivated than ever.

I wish I could show you just how true this is -- but then I'd get fired. The fight ain't over, folks.

This article may just as well apply to politics in general. Well said, well written etc. But apathy of the public has always been the bane of our particular brand of democracy.

Ancillas wrote:

What was up with the ESA supporting this legislation? Were they trying to advocate for a bill that would help curb video game piracy?

I think that was the idea, but a lot of folks caught on to it. I know there's a rough crew of games companies and journos who are refusing to be part of E3 (run by the ESA) because of it.

Seeing this as a wakeup call to the entertainment industry is only half the story. The other half is that the tech industry has also woken up to the dangers of letting the entertainment industry write policy in DC.

I know the entrenched media interests have deep pockets and even deeper ranks of lobbyists but money talks and the tech industry has more money than God. What SOPA and PIPA showed was just how far Hollywood could get a completely broken and ridiculous bill through the system with almost no friction or push-back.

Google, despite the deference shown to the large players in tech, would have ceased to operate inside the US if SOPA passed. Not as some idealistic crusade, but they just couldn't afford to be here. We would've lost control of the DNS services, as well. All of this would have serious economic consequences for the US. Well congrats, you got Google's attention. The tech industry can't afford to live in the libertarian-ish bubble of regulation-free existence it has enjoyed up till this point.

So you're right that the entertainment industry is going to push back, hard. But what we've seen was a power play between media giants, and Google/Wikipedia won this round. So now it's media vs. media and the game has changed significantly.

Politicians fear bad news clips, but now they fear that giant black banner on Google's homepage as well. I don't think we can give up, but I also think that if the entertainment industry tries the same tactics next time they're going down even harder. They can't just dismiss the tech industry as insignificant anymore, they've forced them to take the political gloves off.

It's going to get very interesting, and I don't think it's a given that old media is going to win by default. How does the media have so much influence? Eyeballs. Google has more eyeballs than the traditional media with anybody under the age of 50, and more trust. They've just been sitting things out, hoping to stay out of the process of government. But now they've proved they're willing to use it to get what they want. It's only getting harder for old media from here.

I don't think we're getting another DMCA style debacle where Hollywood just writes the policy for the tech industry. Anything from here on out has to have the tech industry's input to stand a chance.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." - Wing Commander IV

Well, they just shut down Megaupload.com, so I guess they have that as a consolation prize.

Blaming Citizen's United is counter productive. Wanting to overturn this to fight SOPA style regulations is essentially fighting censorship with censorship...

No, the watch-word of today can not be success. It must be vigilance.

Couldn't agree more.

Though the fight isn’t technically over, it’s hard not to see that the PIPA and SOPA are essentially DOA

The two bills are definitely not DOA, only the specific DNS parts of the bills.

One need only notice that on the very day that internet champions were winning one victory over antiquated ideas about media in the digital age, the Supreme Court handed down a decision saying that Congress could pull public domain works and re-copyright them.

Apples and oranges. The Supreme Court was essentially just aligning the US with other nations bound by the Berne Convention, which the US Congress adopted back in 1994. So don't blame the Court; blame the 1994 Congress and/or the international treaty.

Anyway, back to SOPA/PIPA...

I'm a frequent viewer of a few shows on the TWiT network, and yesterday's recording of Tech News Today, which has covered the issue for quite a while, had a good discussion about it. For anyone who's interested, you can watch the episode here. NOTE: They recorded in black & white as their way of joining the Jan 18 blackout.

Elysium wrote:

One need only notice that on the very day that internet champions were winning one victory over antiquated ideas about media in the digital age, the Supreme Court handed down a decision saying that Congress could pull public domain works and re-copyright them.

I saw that as well. It's terrifying on a number of levels.

Pyroman[FO wrote:

]But what we've seen was a power play between media giants, and Google/Wikipedia won this round. So now it's media vs. media and the game has changed significantly.

I realize this might sound overly pessimistic — and I don't want to denigrate the efforts of the folks working very hard to oppose these bills — but my major takeaway from yesterday's protests is that giant corporate interests still have control. This wasn't the voice of the people. It was the voice of money. In this case the money just happened to be on the "right" side.

This TED talk by Clay Shirky sums up the general intent of Big Entertainment. Not to better protect copyright, but to limit sharing in its general sense.

He also sums up the same way Elysium's article does; we won one round, and things will be more difficult because we won that round.

The great thing about beating SOPA/PIPA was not beating SOPA/PIPA, but letting Big Entertainment know there's someone with a big stick that is ready to hit back: Big Network. Google + Wikipedia + Facebook + Twitter (among others) will stand behind the consumer's interest.

Not because they sympathize, but because their business model revolves around aggregating content. It is now up to Google and Amazon and Apple and all these next-generation companies built on top of the digital layer to show the companies of yesterday how to make money in the new millennium. Above all, next-gen needs to send a message across: those fat margins are gone for good.

Old Media / Big Entertainment can't afford to hate/fight every new business models just because they don't get to keep a 60% margin like they did before.

Big Network needs to quickly push legislation that protects content consumption and content sharing while keeping doors open for Old Media / Big Entertainment. We need to keep transitional business models that allow for Publishers and Distributors be a sustainable activity in a time when neither Publishers and Distributors are necessary (in the conventional sense).

I see these little battles over the "future of the internet" as just a bunch of saber rattling. Even if the media companies got what they wanted, would the internet be all that different a year from now? Hell, I am still waiting on the jack-booted thugs that the Patriot Act detractors said were going to kick down my door and haul me off to Guantanamo Bay for smoking pot.

I will get my hackles up when the sh*t really hits the fan. It is all much ado about nothing, if you ask me. I honestly do not see how any company or government can prevail in the long run. Whatever people want to do on the internet, they will do, because there will always be other people out there to make it happen, regardless of what the law of the land is.

We are legion.

Did Elysium just clock like a mofo all over SOPA?

I don't know? Did I?

heavyfeul wrote:

I see these little battles over the "future of the internet" as just a bunch of saber rattling. Even if the media companies got what they wanted, would the internet be all that different a year from now? Hell, I am still waiting on the jack-booted thugs that the Patriot Act detractors said were going to kick down my door and haul me off to Guantanamo Bay for smoking pot.

I will get my hackles up when the sh*t really hits the fan. It is all much ado about nothing, if you ask me. I honestly do not see how any company or government can prevail in the long run. Whatever people want to do on the internet, they will do, because there will always be other people out there to make it happen, regardless of what the law of the land is.

We are legion.

Feds shut down Megaupload, arrest executives. http://www.reddit.com/tb/onrdn

Is this more like what you were expecting?

Again, vigilance is the key to winning the war, but here is an image to celebrate winning this particular battle.

IMAGE(http://s7.postimage.org/rea4f3erv/image.jpg)

Edwin wrote:
heavyfeul wrote:

I see these little battles over the "future of the internet" as just a bunch of saber rattling. Even if the media companies got what they wanted, would the internet be all that different a year from now? Hell, I am still waiting on the jack-booted thugs that the Patriot Act detractors said were going to kick down my door and haul me off to Guantanamo Bay for smoking pot.

I will get my hackles up when the sh*t really hits the fan. It is all much ado about nothing, if you ask me. I honestly do not see how any company or government can prevail in the long run. Whatever people want to do on the internet, they will do, because there will always be other people out there to make it happen, regardless of what the law of the land is.

We are legion.

Feds shut down Megaupload, arrest executives. http://www.reddit.com/tb/onrdn

Is this more like what you were expecting?

Absolutely and what is the big deal? Can we no longer steal music, movies, and software via the internet now? I guess its users will have to send their money to a different Hong Kong based "file sharing" site.

Why do we freak out when less-than-legal bottom feeding companies like Pirates bay and megaupload get shutdown? They can shutdown all the Napsters, Pirate Bays, and Megauplaods they want. File sharing is going nowhere. That is my point.

It's not stealing. It's copyright infringement; and it's even only that because the copyright barons have made it so.

I'd like to emphasize Hobbes' point here. It's not Us vs. Them. It's not the little guy vs. the big guy. It's the New vs. the Old. All the relevant players in the game are mega media companies. They all deal in entertainment and content. This includes Google.

The key question is, will your lawmakers be able to see the way to the future, or will they continue to let the dinosaur copyright barons of the past retard progress?

This is not the future. This is not some far flung location. This is the Internet. It involves us; and the time is now.

In the past, media companies like Disney made money by buying copyright off of artists and then parleying it into what is turning increasingly into a perpetual legal right. In the future, artists will retain their copyright and pay media companies for storage and organization - or should I say the present, since this is how iTunes and Amazon work right now.

The war being fought in your land is a war of progress vs status quo. Those who wish to remain in the past will side with the copyright barons. Those who see into the future will find a way to legalize and monetize activities like Megaupload and Pirate Bay.

I agree. My statements may not emphasize my position, but I would love a world without all the restrictions we have. It is antithetical to a competitive society. The fashion industry seems to do fine without copyrights. You are free to copy and sell any dress, tie, or pair of shoes you see on the runway and sell it. There are plenty of knock-offs, but the big designers and retailers still scoop up all the money.

In short, I have no problem with Megaupload existing. I won't use the site, but I don't really care it is there or not and neither does the rest of the internet. My point is that just because they make a law and file a lawsuit against sites like this and are successful in their attack, it will not remove the basic functionality (data goes out, data comes in). I am sure there is another place everyone can get their pirated copy of Photoshop.

But there needs to be some kind of transformation in the way that people get Photoshop so that it can't be pirated. Because it is possible, it will be done. And Adobe deserves their damned money. That's why Adobe is putting so much money into their online services. You can expect the next version of Photoshop to run out of the cloud, just like every other damned thing. Look forward to a future in 20 years where the only current copies of major applications, like Photoshop and Office and Outlook, are in the cloud and the only people "pirating" them are passing around the same tired old copies from 2014.

Same with movies and TV shows. We're not downloading movies on Netflix and Hulu, we're streaming them. Same with games, since you don't "own" anything you "buy" on Gaikai or OnLive. More and more of the content we want to enjoy is being taken from us and placed on the other side of a pay wall. Because we are behaving like ass hats, collectively and individually, by violating people's copyrights.

You like your little computer box you built, you PC elitist? Your tricked out $3k laptops? They'll be irrelevant once everything is on the other side of a DSL connection you pay Comcast $300 a month for in 2025. All you'll need is a $15 Samsung 57" pail of liquid crystal paste to smear on your living room wall and a wireless router. You'll wave your hands at the smear and it'll bring you CoD14 while you yell "crouch" into the ether.

So stop friggin' pirating, ya yahoos. You're why we can't own nice things. I hope they turn Megaupload into a smoking crater.

My gods that felt good.

Edwin wrote:

Feds shut down Megaupload, arrest executives. http://www.reddit.com/tb/onrdn

Anonymous strikes back: http://gizmodo.com/5877679/anonymous...

...wow. Paging William Gibson.

LarryC wrote:

It's not stealing. It's copyright infringement; and it's even only that because the copyright barons have made it so.

Legally you are correct. But piracy is no morally better than stealing. It's based in the same intentions and mindset, it's just a different and conveniently anonymous way of doing it. If someone asks you to pay a certain price for a product or service and you don't want to pay it for whatever reason, that's your right but that also means you don't get to use it. Taking it and using it for free anyway when it comes to digital content is not theft but it's no better than that. Pirates try to romanticise what they do as "file sharing" when in reality, it's them hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet to access product for free that they'd never have the balls to steal off the shelf in the flesh. This isn't a loaf of bread to feed your starving family, it's entertainment products, things that are 100% optional in life. If content is worth consuming, it's worth paying for.

That said, while my position on piracy is strong, I know plenty of people who do it (including my girlfriend) and I don't pass judgement on them individually, I just refuse to partake in it. I hate it on a cultural (i.e. Internet entitlement) level but that's about it. I also agree that what the content companies are doing to try to fight piracy is idiotic and simply, against the concepts of a free society. Whether piracy is wrong or not, it is an inevitability and must be treated as a cost of doing business. Legislation like SOPA is moronic and will do nothing to solve the core problem, just like shutting down MegaUpload will also solve nothing. As others have said more eloquently before, piracy can only be curtailed by adding value for the legitimate customers you do have and the industry has to learn to adjust their budgets to reflect the sales they can realistically expect, not the ones they wish they had. If they do that and stop spending money suing fans, they might start doing alright again.

Everything Elysium said is bang on. A single battle was won today (in an impressive way no less) and now the majority of those who fought it thinks the war's over and honestly, I think the content companies are counting on the Internet's razor-thin attention span to make this blow over so they can try again later and not get noticed. Until this industry either goes under, has a major changing of the guard in their leadership or the US wakes up and stops letting corporation buy legislation, this will keep coming back until they get what they want. More than anything, what frustrates me as someone who doesn't and never will live in the US is that this legislation stands to have as big an impact on myself and the rest of the world as it does on those who live in the US, yet none of us get any say in it. There's something incredibly anti-democratic about that.

EDIT: Also, what The Wanderer said. There are many cool things about an all-cloud future and a ton of equally bad things. And that future is exactly what will happen if people keep thinking they deserve all the content they want for nothing.

TheWanderer wrote:

But there needs to be some kind of transformation in the way that people get Photoshop so that it can't be pirated. Because it is possible, it will be done. And Adobe deserves their damned money.

Perhaps a bit off-topic, but as wordsmythe is fond of saying, you're stumbling into my bailiwick.

Your statement assumes that free and premium versions of something can't exist side-by-side. Adobe could very well give Photoshop away for free but sell customer support, similar to what Red Hat did with their distribution of Linux. There are actually a legion of examples of this style of copyright-free behavior in this book, available for free online.

I do think you are correct about everything moving to a pay-wall cloud-based service, but don't think for a second it's the content providers that are driving that. The recorded music and movie industries make a lot less money from subscription services than they ever did (or still do) from physical media, though this is more true in the music industry than movie industry due to "record cuts", i.e. the lack of ability for consumers to only buy the song or two they wanted off of an album. The TV industry will have to deal with this again soon when people are finally able to wrangle a la carte cable packages out of telcom providers (you only pay for the channels you want, in other words). Even with Netflix being ubiquitous and owning a third of all peak bandwidth, DVDs and blu-rays still make more money.

The cloud services are being driven from the consumer end, completely on an ease-of-use basis. People seem happy to give up (or are not thinking through the ramifications) their ownership and first-sale rights to copyrighted material in order to have the entire library at their fingertips, without having to manage it themselves.

The outrage over SOPA and PIPA doesn't have anything to do with copyright control -- it has to do with punishment without due process, something that's been a hot topic in many areas recently.

I'm fairly sure the fight to keep anything anywhere even vaguely resembling free has already been irrevocably lost. But I suppose we can try to make the victory of the forces opposing liberty as costly as possible.

kincher skolfax wrote:
Edwin wrote:

Feds shut down Megaupload, arrest executives. http://www.reddit.com/tb/onrdn

Anonymous strikes back: http://gizmodo.com/5877679/anonymous...

...wow. Paging William Gibson.

Interesting couple of days.

Honestly I wasn't aware of piracy on megaupload. I've seen it listed as a download link for lots of independent programs and tools out there. Things like character or skill planners for games... or mods for games. Seemed like a useful place to store stuff, but I never really bothered looking into it.

From what I understand, MegaUpload wasn't the problem, it was its sister site MegaVideo which a LOT of people I know used to stream pirated content.

LarryC wrote:

The key question is, will your lawmakers be able to see the way to the future, or will they continue to let the dinosaur copyright barons of the past retard progress?.

I think SOPA is a clear example of what happens when we leave the next-generation laws in the hands of last generation law-makers. They do nothing and lobbying group seize the opportunity.

But we can't leave it up to Big Network. It will be only a matter of time before Big Entertainment strike deals with Big Network (hint: it's called the end of net neutrality).

The best we can do is consume new services according to laws. Like before; we speak with our wallets. Streaming content is great. Channel surfing is dead. Paying late fees for rented movies is dead. Being back after this message from our sponsors is dead.

Only by showing Old Media that new models work, can we keep Big Network innovating.

Like LarryC said, this is copyright infringement not theft. If I am not mistaken that's a civil matter and not criminal and doesn't warrant the use of the federal law enforcement and should be left to sue people in a civil court. Please correct me if I am wrong.

TheWanderer wrote:

So stop friggin' pirating, ya yahoos. You're why we can't own nice things. I hope they turn Megaupload into a smoking crater.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

EDIT: Also, what The Wanderer said. There are many cool things about an all-cloud future and a ton of equally bad things. And that future is exactly what will happen if people keep thinking they deserve all the content they want for nothing.

I've come to feel that piracy is just a convenient excuse for corporations doing what they wanted to in the first place. The reason we can't have nice things and why the future is happening is because we're allowing corporations to avoid the really tough criticism by claiming the only reason they keep hurting us is because of those gosh darn pirates.

Why else would we get broken DRM that seems to only inconvenience the legitimate user? Are these corporations that stupid? Or is it that only a fraction of the concern they express over piracy is honest and genuine, they just know it's a great way to deflect criticism away from the nasty things they want to do to legitimate customers?