I had a great time on yesterday’s Focus.com SOPA Roundtable and was honored to be asked to participate. While we took a bit of time to celebrate the fact that the effective death of the current SOPA & PIPA bills is a clear victory for those of us who opposed them, the panel was also unanimous in recognizing that this is only a single, minor victory in what has been and likely will continue to be an ongoing struggle between the technology and media industries.
You may not like him (I certainly don’t) but you have to give the MPAA grudging credit for hiring an insider like Christopher Dodd – Hollywood knew exactly what it was doing, and only an 11th-hour self-organizing scramble prevented legislation that would have been disastrous for the tech industry.
Hired as the consummate Washington insider to carry the film industry’s banner on crucial issues like piracy, Mr. Dodd ended up being more coach than player. He helped devise a strategy that called for his coalition to line up a strong array of legislative sponsors and supporters behind two similar laws — the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and the Protect I.P. Act in the Senate — and then to move them through the Congress quickly before possible opposition from tech companies could coalesce.
Did the tech industry overreact? I don’t believe so, and Clay Shirky describes why it’s time to stop celebrating and remain on high alert.
This is an industry that demands payment from summer camps if the kids sing Happy Birthday or God Bless America, an industry that issues takedown notices for a 29-second home movie of a toddler dancing to Prince. Traditional American media firms are implacably opposed to any increase in citizens’ ability to create, copy, save, alter, or share media on our own. They fought against cassette audio tapes, and photocopiers. They swore the VCR would destroy Hollywood. They tried to kill Tivo. They tried to kill MiniDisc. They tried to kill player pianos. They do this whenever a technology increases user freedom over media. Every time. Every single time.
As Michael Arrington suggests, Congress has every reason to keep the battle going:
— Michael Arrington (@arrington) January 20, 2012
Congress can set up a fight pit with Hollywood in one corner and Silicon Valley in the other. Who cares what happens. The money will just roll right in.
Even Fred Wilson, certainly one of tech’s cooler and more reasonable heads, is outraged by Hollywood’s actions:
I can’t tell you how many Senators and Representatives have told me that they were told by the MPAA and the RIAA that the technology industry was on board and that these issues would not impact the Internet and tech community adversely. This is no way for one industry to propose that Congress regulate another industry. I think it is absurd that one industry would have the arrogance to think it is appropriate to ask Congress to regulate another industry for them. And yet that is what went down on these bills.
Piracy is a real problem – most reasonable people would admit that. But until and unless Hollywood demonstrates willingness to meet the tech industry halfway in a way they thus far have not, ongoing vigilance is not just advisable but absolutely required.