5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

Summary: No matter how many times we push back on legislative heinousness, it will come back and it will keep coming back. Here's why.

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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:

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.

See also: Everything that's wrong about politics: latest SOPA and PROTECT-IP outrage

See also: SOPA: So how much does it cost to buy off America's Internet freedom?

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.

See also:

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Mobility, Piracy, Security

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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111 comments
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  • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

    "...the shredded remains of our cherished Constitution." It's interesting to me that almost no politicians, left or right or middle, see it that way but so much of the public does.
    Bill4
    • The disconnect

      @Bill4

      is a mile wide at this point.
      klumper
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @Bill4 Look into what Ron Paul has to say. 4:15 into the video. <br><br><a href="http://www.dailypaul.com/201489/video-ron-paul-on-sopa-and-ndaa-at-nh-airport-hanger-rally" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.dailypaul.com/201489/video-ron-paul-on-sopa-and-ndaa-at-nh-airport-hanger-rally</a>
      Spikey_Mike
      • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

        @Spikey_Mike

        Yeah I feel like Ron Paul is 'the lesser of 5 evils'

        :)
        dtdono0
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @Bill4 This is actually a very interesting article (and later comments), just read after reading an NRA article. Many of the arguments are the same "against the Constitutional freedom of xxx", "how do they think limiting x will protect people", and so forth. I think in both cases we need limitations, possibly administered by the federal government (because we'll get too much fragmentation in laws). And, in both cases, if the laws become overly stringent, we open the possibility of allowing a government to become oppressive. Personally, I'm not sure of the answer... especially for the Internet. For gun control, at least, a waiting period, background checks, and required training make sense. For the Internet?... but SOPA definitely does not help us!
      ebarrow
      • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

        @ebarrow - My dad was a career cop, and he participated in a study that was done in 1997 (and promptly quashed by the Clinton Administration). From 1987 to 1997, he reviewed all of his reports where guns were seized during arrests or searches, and 92% of them were illegally possessed, either stolen or purchased under false pretenses. As former Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, "There is no waiting period to buy a stolen gun."
        terry flores
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @Bill4 - The politicians have seen it, but it benefits them so much that there is no incentive for them to change it. Federal politicians now have powers and privileges undreamed of by the Founding Fathers. And they have the means to gather "legal bribes" to make themselves millions of dollars. Why should they change? As long as the voters (us) let them get away with it, they are all on Easy Street.
      terry flores
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @Bill4 <br><br>Except usage of web sites and the Internet infrastructure owned by private companies is not protected by the Constitution. So freedom of speech doesn't apply. One has the right to say what one wants; one does not have a right to a private platform to say it from.
      aep528
  • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

    The industry remains clueless on how to reinvent itself. Maybe some segments like big music labels are starting to realize they are not as relevant as they use to be. Therefore they entrench to protect what they have vs. breakout thinking for the future.
    rjm56
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @rjm56

      Just look at who owns EMI, same guys that want their world government, internet censorship they are after, they don't give a rats ass about the profit, just power.
      otester
      • Power v. Profit

        @otester
        Power is merely a means with which to ease the accumulation of profit. Don't kid yourself with any other notion. For reference material, see the history of Humankind.
        use_what_works_4_U
      • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

        @otester
        It is just sinister greed for power and money.

        And: Greed is [b] not good [/b]. Ambitions are good.
        Greed kills, ambitions not.
        hkommedal
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @rjm56 that is half the issue, (and being a little empathetic for a second, if you had a successful business, of course you would try to prevent that business from being whittled away)(being less empathetic that doesn't mean that they should be able to print money based on a 1980's business model either, they are largely in "retail" which is about selling to customers, so what customers want should drive the market)
      but I think we are all familiar with the element of SOPA driven by label greed.
      one.m.davis
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      But as a few comments have addressed, if this was solely about greed (it is certainly greed that has funded the lobbyists to make it this big a issue at a congress level) it would be easier to dismiss this. But the bill is about online Piracy, I think we are all against online Piracy (just sometimes we define it differently) for example if wikipedia was to use a copyrighted image or tune or scene etc, in describing that item, or something included in that item, or something that item describes, I would not consider it piracy
      one.m.davis
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      Similarly if you are not make larges sums of money from your clip, using copyright music in the background of your youtube video is not really piracy (can you imaging the proponents of SOPA kicking the door down of a primary school, because the class was using copyright music in a class production? ). I agree that there are issues with the current bill, the idea of being able to just suspend a site first upon the complaint of piracy, and then investigate if the claim was valid or not is an issue, the fact that you can be held responsible for things posted by the general online public (who are not accountable to you) is a problem. But unfortunately piracy is also a problem.
      one.m.davis
      • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

        @one.m.davis
        Interesting that you should mention kicking doors down in primary schools to protect copy-written material. I have heard some interesting tales of our friends at Disney sending high powered lawyers to shut down kindergarten plays because they contained Disney characters. Disney will go to any lengths to protect their material. Kicking down doors is only a half step away from cease and desist letters to children. When if they were to look at the matter a little outside the box they would probably sell a lot more products in an area which at just done a production of one of their stories. But their policy is no breaches whatsoever.
        BoneLazy
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      So as a few people have written, whilst it is important to do something about SOPA, it is equally important to do something about piracy, and sadly I don't know how (or even why) the internet would self-regulate itself, which means that if the interests are to be protected with in a nation, that nations government will need to take the action. It is sadly na??ve to think that the internet should be "off limits" to the government.
      one.m.davis
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      What this means is that the smart minds should be searching for, and building options to SOPA, ways of holding up the 'legitimate side' of SOPA (not the pure greed based side) without all the consequences of the ill-thought-out bills of late 2011. David Gewirtz is right, these bills won't just go away, but he forgot one point, because "something" is needed. The internet has "grown" almost completely free of government control, but we are na??ve if we think it can (or should be able to) stay entirely that way. (even if it would be "nice" that it could... in some ways)
      one.m.davis
  • This has been going on for a century.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolian_Company#Copyright_law

    The Industry has been fighting modern technology since the early 1900s. This is nothing new and it will never change.

    Ironic that one of the things that made the United States so powerful was theft when Samuel Marsh stole the plans to a factory from the Great Britain. But with that power put into place no one wants to lose it no matter how ill gotten the gains.

    My resolution to this is to remember come election time who is in the pocket of the industry and to pull them from office. That creates a competitive market for lobbyists by creating so many that they can be purchased by the lowest bidder and lets congress know that we are aware of who is being bought.
    nucrash
    • RE: 5 reasons why SOPA, PROTECT-IP and other legislative idiocy will never die

      @nucrash But they are ALL in the pockets of industry. THAT's the problem.
      kirkbubul