Backers of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), have been railing against the bill’s critics ever since the legislation plunged to a fiery death earlier this year. The unprecedented online protest by Google, Reddit, Wikipedia, Ars Technica, Wired, and others was, the backers say, largely about misleading the public.
But not every backer got the message. As PIPA co-sponsor Senator Chris Coons admitted today, SOPA “really did pose some risk to the Internet.”
Change in tone?
Back in January, MPAA boss Chris Dodd raged against his critics:
It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.
A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.
This became a common theme after the protests; that “misinformation,” some of it organized, had doomed some very sensible bills. Recently, though, as the sting of defeat wears off and rightsholders plan their way forward, the tone has changed a bit.
“Google chose wisely by making Hollywood the enemy,” Dodd told Variety last week, which sounds like more of the same “corporate pawns” rhetoric. But he added, “We’re going to have to be more subtle and consumer-oriented. We’re on the wrong track if we describe this as thievery.”
This could mean plenty of things—from “we genuinely need to make sure citizens are on board with this, and we’ll stop using hyperbole to describe real problems” to “we’ll show subtlety by sneaking these bills into trade agreements and parceling them out into bits and pieces of legislation that’s harder to oppose.” We’ll see. But still: the quotes above could be progress of a sort.
The RIAA was likewise unhappy with the outcome of the SOPA fight, but the most recent entry on its blog is called “Cooperation is King.”
It is not “content vs. technology,” nor is it “past vs. future.” It is an understanding of the interdependence between technology and content whose future will ultimately thrive or wither together. But the questions we are asked often is: how do we move toward that dynamic future? In the current political environment, is it realistic to advance any meaningful progress on measures to help the legal marketplace for music?
(Still, the “cooperation” touted in the piece involves private companies like Visa and MasterCard cutting off payments to “rogue” sites, or the new “six strikes” process that Internet providers in the US will largely adopt later this year. “Cooperation” doesn’t yet appear to involve any real efforts at engaging actual Internet communities and users.)
Today, PIPA co-sponsor Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) admitted that the legislative approach considered by Congress had gotten the balance wrong. One of his sons woke him up and asked “why I wanted to break the Internet and why Justin Bieber thought I should go to jail,” Coons said, as reported by The Hill.
“That was my first warning that we were not communicating effectively,” Coons added, but he went on the admit that the issues involved more than “communications.” Some bits of the more radical SOPA, in particular, “overreached” and “really did pose some risk to the Internet.”
SOPA is certain to return, in some form. Clearly, it will be toned down to make passage more likely—but will SOPA 2.0 just be more rightsholder-drafted legislation covered with band-aids, or will it truly emerge from a collaborative, good-faith negotiating and hearings process that involves not just other giant corporations but citizens and critics, too? The answer to that question will show just how serious everyone is about “cooperation” and about not avoiding “risks to the Internet.”