There has been some small celebration over the last few days about what appears, at first glance, to be a victory of anti-SOPA activists against the legislative disaster that is the Stop Online Piracy Act:
- White House releases statement against SOPA; asks for refined legislation this year -- The White House stated, "We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet."
- DNS provision pulled from SOPA, victory for opponents -- The bill's provision to muck with the DNS infrastructure will reportedly be removed.
- Geeks 1, Congress 0: Controversial anti-piracy bill SOPA 'shelved' -- Republican leaders report the bill has been put on hold until certain provisions have been changed.
So does this mean our long national nightmare is finally over? Does this mean the Internet is now safe from lawmakers and lobbyists for now and the future? Does this mean we can all rest easy, secure in the knowledge that our own legislators won't try to destroy the future of digital free speech?
Oh. Hell. No.
Do not let your guard down. This anti-piracy idiocy is too deeply entrenched in the DNA of the entertainment industry to ever (ever!) go away. Let's go back 30 years, to 1982. Back then the VCR was just about to hit the market.
The MPAA (yes, the very same MPAA we all know and love) fought against the VCR and went so far as to equate it to the Boston strangler in Congressional hearings. No, I'm not making that up. Here's the statement from the then-head of the MPAA:
I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.
Seriously. It's in the Congressional record, hearings before the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties and the Administration of Justice of the Committee of the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-seventh Congress, Second Session on H.R. 4783, H.R. 4794 H.R. 4808, H.R. 5250, H.R. 5488, and H.R. 5705, Serial No 97, Part I, Home Recording of Copyrighted Works, April 12, 1982. Crazy, no?
Now, 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.
First, let's be aware that market forces can be a bitch if you're on the wrong end of them. If those market forces are consumer behavior, then it's even worse. Given that, there are five factors involved that have absolutely nothing to do with our freedoms and everything to do with greed and politics.
Here then are 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative anti-piracy idiocy will never die:
Reason #1: You can't actually compete against consumer behavior.
All you can do is get laws passed to force or block consumer behavior. In other words, to get your way, you have to criminalize the customers you were otherwise going to lose.
Reason #2: Fear sells.
When industry executives are afraid, they tend to fund hit men who promise to make the problem go away. In this case, the hit men are the lawyers and lobbyists in the entertainment industry.
Reason #3: There's a lot of money to be made from fear.
The lawyers and lobbyists have the potential to make a ton of money off of fearful entertainment industry executives. Plus, if they can show these same executives how they can become potentially self-sustaining, they can make even more money. This is why the RIAA has spent years suing grandmothers and college students for downloading music off the Internet. It was a profit center.
Since using digital media has such an impact on all aspects of the entertainment industry, lawyers and lobbyists have a never-ending gig filing lawsuits and trying to convince politicians to betray their constituencies (and the Constitution). These lobbying gigs pay very, very well, ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars a year, up to tens of millions of dollars.
Reason #4: Politicians need lobbyists.
Politicians need to get re-elected. To do so costs a huge amount of money. Back in 2007, Senator Dick Durban wrote that the average spent on a given high-profile Senate race was $34 million. That's a lot of money.
Where do politicians get their money? Donations. And donations come from lots of interests, large and small. Hillary Clinton raised $41 million when she ran for Senate.
As you might imagine, when lobbyists represent huge collections of interests, and those interests have a truckload of potential contributions, politicians listen to lobbyists.
Reason #5: Lobbyists have a disproportionate influence on politicians.
Where do old politicians go to die? Some teach. Some just hide from public life. But many, many of them go to lobbying firms, and then turn back around and pitch their old buddies on whatever issue they're currently hawking.
That's what Chris Dodd is doing. As I discussed a few weeks ago, former Senator Chris Dodd (who swore he'd never take money from lobbyists) is now the CEO of the MPAA. He's selling out America for a $1.5 million base salary and a $100 million lobbying budget. You can influence a lot of politicians with a $100 million lobbying budget.
So, between the money and influence coming in the door via lobbying firms, and the fact that many of their friends are working for lobbyists, politicians tend to do what lobbyists want them to do.
Add it up
That's why I contend that this legislative anti-piracy idiocy will never die. The motivators are virtually unstoppable:
- You can't really compete against consumer behavior.
- Fear sells.
- There's a lot of money to be made from fear.
- Politicians need lobbyists.
- Lobbyists have a disproportionate influence on politicians.
So there you go. No matter how many times we push back on legislative heinousness, it will come back and it will keep coming back.
That doesn't mean we should all give up and give in. But what it does mean is you can't give up and you can't let your guard down.
As soon -- as soon -- as we take our eye off the ball, these suckers are going to be in there, doing their absolute best to take our freedoms away and sell us out to a bunch of short-sighted lawyers and former politicians hell-bent on lining their pockets with the shredded remains of our cherished Constitution.
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