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

LarryC wrote:

I'd like to emphasize duckideva's point that the goal of the old media is nothing less than the destruction of any capability of anyone on the internet to share and use files - essentially, they want to destroy it. I don't think this implication of the SOPA and the PIPA were accidental.

Seems this is what was I trying to say in my last post. I don't mean to equate physical robbery to copying bits. 1 and 0 were made to be copied.

Let's take morality out of the equation for a second. As Elysium reminds us, Piracy has been discussed to death. What I want to focus on, it's the 2vs1 posture we can take and use to our advantage. It's either us (consumers at the retail level) and New New Network vs Old Media, or 1v1v1 where SOPA/PIPA keep mutating until the pass.

If we "give in" to illegal or irregular consumption of content; torrents and premium MU accounts, we go back to square one: Old Media calls us thieves and once again we lose focus of the important issues because we're busy debating semantics.

SOPA/PIPA prove Old Media does not care anymore about making the distinction between stealing, copying, sharing and pirating.

Only by consuming through legitimate chanels do we validate Big Network. Only by using aggregated sources who bothered to strike licensing deals, can we send a consistent message: we like to consume and we have money to spend, we are willing to pay for content, and we're looking for innovative ways to consume that content.

I agree LarryC; they know we know, we know they know, and everyone knows that everyone knows. But when we complain at the retail level, we're seen (and treated) as whiny, entitled and fussy. When Google/Apple/Yahoo/Amazon complain, Old Media has to listen.

So yeah, who cares if copying is stealing or it isn't. We need to put our wallets where New Network's mouth is.

LarryC wrote:

Apple's recent iBooks legal wording essentially gives them copyright of any textbook work you make on their new software. I was completely floored by it. It's like Microsoft claiming control of any written work typed on Microsoft Word! Bizarre.

It underscores the point. Apple doesn't want to defend consumers. It wants to be a new copyright baron.

Yep. I was disappointed in the rather paltry amount of coverage this got in the tech press, at least the sites I follow. Apple has admirably managed to create a culture where a very large number of their users and outlets that cover them see them almost as a friend, someone who is on their side and looking out for their interests. In reality, they are like any other big business. They care about money and the customer and partner experience is only important as it relates to them making more of it.

Duckideva makes an interesting point about how many of the people running the show at Big Media right now are people who weren't born into the information age, don't understand it and couldn't be bothered to try. I wonder if an argument can be made for these guys along the lines of what was made over legislators trying to ban violent video games. They being that when these guys finally die off/retire (assuming the companies they run survive that long), whoever replaces them will be someone who grew up around technology and embraces it rather than tries in vain to fight it.

I put this in the other thread, but I think it needs to be here, too. Read the bill at the links, gang. This is important.

This Smith guy is running out of feet. He should stop aiming his gun at them. Even though he's withdrawn SOPA, we have other targets. He's got another bill out there that just hit the House floor, with nasty, nasty results for civil liberties if it passes.

The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which, among other ridiculously vague and useless things, would require ISP's to store all customer's browsing history and personally identifiable information for over a year and make it available to law enforcement. All in the name of supposedly stopping child pornography.

It's far from dead. It was introduced last May, and was reported to the full house by the Committee of Energy and Commerce in December.

Do they have any idea of the scale we're talking about? Even just raw server logs as they're currently constituted without that extra personal tracking data would be terabytes a day for any decent sized provider. And apparently this guy doesn't understand the fine art of Private mode or the obfuscation practiced by most internet security packages even if a user isn't trying to go completely anonymous. If the data doesn't come off the client, the ISP can't record it.

The sheer technical impossibility of recording the data is just the tip of the iceberg. Trying to get any useful data out of something that large is not a trivial matter. Plus, I don't see any provisions for designating the format of the data so each provider would have their own and law enforcement agencies would have to figure out how to cope with all of them.

Security for this would be a nightmare. Every ISP would be maintaining an ever-growing pile of candy that hackers and even their own marketing departments would be salivating over. And with the scope of the data collection, this would make the Sony break-in look like nothing. No one in their right mind would ever even use their online banking ever again.

Not to even mention that if you really were trying to avoid this and serve up child porn, all it would take to get around this is to have your own server and maintain your own connection. The law limits the reporting to what is termed a "public accommodation", and by the definitions already tested in court a fully private network would be exempt. The costs are really not that bad. I've worked for two small business that did it for years. We had three T1s from a reputable telco for a little less than $1000 a month. And it's easy enough to setup a self-taught tape monkey like me can run it. Anyone who knows what he was doing could handle it with no problem. A couple dummy fronts over it and a strategy for moving the business info around would make it very hard to find.

MomGamer: Holy Crap! This slid completely under my radar, and I make a habit of keeping track of what congresscritters are up to.

For those who are interested in reading more, the bill is H.R. 1981. It was referred out of committee on Dec 16, 2011 and was sent to be published and put on the Union Calendar #224, and was added to the which is the step before it gets voted on. Here's a refresher on what "put on the Union Calendar" means: http://www.opencongress.org/wiki/How...

Here is a link to the thomas.gov site, which will always have the most recent version of the bill listed as the last item: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/...

See also here: http://e-lobbyist.com/gaits/view/334517

See also: S. 1308: Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which is the senate version.

It demands an 18 month retention policy by ip address, and indemnifies the ISPs for retaining the data. So, they have all this data, store it in clear-text somewhere, and it gets hacked, the ISPs are free and clear, because this bill would let them ignore current data privacy laws. Whoa.

So, it's a little off-topic, but there's a petition that's just been set up over at whitehouse.gov to make the terms of copyright more sensible in the first place. Here's the author's description (ganked from here):

I've created a petition on whitehouse.gov asking them to reduce the term of copyrights back to what they were in 1976: 28 years, with an option to renew for another 28 years. Though I don't generally put much faith in online petitions, the white house genuinely does read and respond to ones that get enough signatures. So even if this doesn't directly change anything, it's a good way to tell your leaders that you care about copyright, that you don't approve of the absurd terms they've created as a giveaway to media companies, and that you want them to do something about it.

The petition needs 150 signatures before it becomes visible in the list of open petitions, and to be guaranteed a response it needs to get 25,000 signatures within 30 days. But they still respond to many petitions that don't reach that threshhold or that take more than 30 days to reach it.

So please, do whatever you can to help. Sign it. Share the link with other people. And while you're on the site, take a look at the other open petitions - you might find some you agree with and want to sign. If we don't like what our elected representatives are doing, it's up to us to tell them that.

The link to the petition is here: http://wh.gov/KO9

Hobbes2099 wrote:

Let's take morality out of the equation for a second.

What about legality? Would you be willing to accept that what you're doing is perhaps justifiable for the reasons you list, but still illegal? E.g. the economic equivalent of civil disobedience?

momgamer wrote:

The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, which, among other ridiculously vague and useless things, would require ISP's to store all customer's browsing history and personally identifiable information for over a year and make it available to law enforcement. All in the name of supposedly stopping child pornography.

Wow, I just...I don't even...

I know this isn't the first time a member of Congress has introduced dopey, ineffectual legislation, but our representatives' stunning lack of basic comprehension of how the Internet works (and, by extension, how people work) makes me question what other things they have little to no understanding of, yet are perfectly content to legislate. The legislative docket these days is starting to read like a series of Onion headlines.

The above example is particularly bizarre to those of us in Massachusetts, where a very comprehensive privacy act was passed in 2010. It provides pretty strict guidelines for protecting personal information. Besides being ludicrously cumbersome for ISPs and obscenely invasive for consumers, the above bill would place millions of people's identities (not to mention privacy) at incredible risk. Which kinda defeats the purpose, if there even was one other than self-aggrandizement.

Itsatrap wrote:

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

Also Thomas Jefferson.

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.

China

Just dropped to say this:
It should by now be common knowledge that Megaupload was shot down because they were starting Megabox, a music service that would pay the artist 90% of the revenue.

Also, the MAFIAA is already f*cking things up in EU, check ACTA.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Co...

That may be so, but what is the real world problem we are actually having? I honestly feel like I am the only one pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes. What functionality or content is missing from the internet?

RolandofGilead 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.

China

Yes we are just like China. But one day, when all the SOPAs of the world have been defeated, then we will taste true freedom.