So the Internet has spoken and SOPA is dead. On the Wednesday before the actual vote, several websites went dark or put up banners that allowed you to contact your representative. Google, who put a black swatch across their ubiquitous logo, collected 7 million signatures on an online petition. Notable was the near-total blackout of Wikipedia. Millions of Americans were forced to use dictionaries for the day. The White House, reluctant to walk to the library for information, said, “This stinks,” and announced its opposition to the bill.
The yelling started early. GoDaddy.com was initially all for SOPA. Angry websters started pulling their business from the domain site and threatened to treat CEO Bob Parsons like an elephant. Crafters of the legislation, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), Arizona Rep. Ben Quayle (R), and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid (D), apparently heard the chorus and headed for the hills. Lamar Smith, co-author of the bill, switched sides after someone provided a link to his campaign website. The background photo was a copyrighted photo for which the artist had received no credit or royalties. Oops.
Well, then, we’re all good, right?
Not so fast. Money talks. The industries that were really pushing for SOPA were the music and film distributors. They make a great deal of money by selling songs and flicks. But think about it: when is the last time that you slipped the shrink-wrap off of an album or peeled your feet from a theater floor? Oh, sure, they get 99 cents a pop on iTunes and maybe you’ve got a Netflix subscription, but there are still a whole lot of dollar bills getting lost in the pirate cloud. And don’t think that these guys are going to take this quietly.
Christopher Dodd was a United States Senator. He also ran a moderately successful campaign for President. He became pretty powerful in Washington. Now he’s the chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. That makes him their head lobbyist, and one with some pretty significant connections. He personally crafted some of the language in SOPA, and hasn’t been shy about his disappointment in its demise. He told Fox News that he was going to hit politicians where it hurt. “Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.” Money talks; SOPA gets up and walks.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) was born about six years ago as a way to combat Internet piracy on a global level. The agreement was spearheaded in Poland (apparently anxious to stem the flow of illegal Nicki Minaj videos), and thousands of protesters stormed the European Parliament building in Warsaw to voice their displeasure. But you know what? It passed. Much of Europe and parts of Asia signed on the dotted (or dotcommed) line. In fact, our own President, Barack Obama, inked his signature on it LAST YEAR.
That’s not all:
- The Canadian Parliament is moving forward with the Copyright Modernization Act, which is basically ‘Bride of SOPA’. It has many of the dangerous tenets of our failed bill, and would allow a corporation to arbitrarily call for a disputed site to simply be blackened. Canada doesn’t have a Chris Dodd, though. They let a music-industry representative craft the language in their bill.
- In a state of “Erin Go Black” euphoria, Ireland went ahead and passed their version. The folks of the Emerald Isle didn’t have an opportunity to rush the castle on this one. It skipped Irish Parliament and was signed as a ‘ministerial order’.
When the Rio Player (hee hee hee) first came out, the company was sued by the music industry. It was 1999, and digital music was very much a science fiction wow thing. People were amazed that they could have music at their fingertips and in their ears and not need a 40-pound boombox or a pencil to rewind their Walkman tapes (There used to be a device called a Walkman that allowed you to play these things called “cassette tapes”. Weird, I know.). A court found that ripping songs from your PC (I crack myself up) to a portable device was really like making a mixtape and obviously constituted personal use.
It wasn’t the first time that the entertainment industry has gotten in a lather about technology. In 1984 Universal Studios sued Sony Manufacturing over the introduction of a device called a BetaMax. It was the first home-device for viewing video content, and Universal clearly saw the ghost of empty theaters future.
This brings up an interesting sidebar: should a new technology sit on innovation for fear of a copyright lawsuit?
I understand the importance of protecting one’s property. As someone who loves music, I also sympathize with the struggle of an artist to make a living. But there’s got to be a better way. The Internet hasn’t killed creativity; rather it has exploded it. In the grand scheme of things, how much money do you think that the gaffer gets when a Twilight movie inexplicably grosses a bazillion dollars? How much money does the drummer get when you buy a Nickleback CD (we’re hoping not too much).
The entertainment industry needs to evolve.
Have you seen a horse-drawn carriage lately? Probably not. Manufacturers were lulled into thinking that they were in the carriage business and they got Bartman’ed by Henry Ford. Ford saw it as the ‘personal transportation’ business. Look at Apple. They started out with ugly little computers and are now the most profitable company in America. How did they amass their quazillion dollars in earnings? They sold a whole lot of phones. Over half of their sales were from iPhones. The little computer company is now a phone company.
Keep your eyes out as these other bills start to gain strength. There’s a great deal of money involved. But why shoot the cow for delivering the mik?