7 posts categorized "SOPA & PIPA"

Fred Wilson's Post-SOPA Recap

If you've been reading Fred Wilson's blog the last couple of years, you already have an incomparable perspective on PROTECT IP / PIPA / SOPA that it's not possible to get from any news organization, aggregator or partisan.

6226789690_81c9af419b_bIn that uncanny way he has to pull a longer perspective while still in the middle of something, Fred posts this morning about how the MPAA / RIAA attack on the internet was quashed (for now), and how he sees the road ahead. That is, how the tension between the tech and content industries should be addressed going forward.

There's a huge difference between how Fred characterizes the opposition to SOPA, and how the MPAA's chief lobbyist, Senator Chris Dodd, characterizes it.

Fred's view:

"Our industry does not have an MPAA or an RIAA. For the past 15 months we have been working with various individuals, a few companies, and a few advocacy groups to fight these bills. We found each other over the Internet, coordinated efforts (or not) over the Internet, and used the Internet to protect the Internet. The opposition was chaotic, distributed, diverse, uncoordinated and extremely effective in the end. Just like the Internet."

Contrast that with the view of the Senator for the entertainment industry (MPAA-Hollywood):

"[S]ome technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

"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."

I'm hoping the tech industry won't organize itself into trade associations that lobby and perpetuate the same corruption that produced Dodd. To paraphrase what I wrote in this New Year's Day post: the tech community has the skills to topple the current, corporatist shadow of democracy that would shame our nation's founders. "Getting smarter" with how the Congress of today works, organizing within that system, establishing outposts on K Street, perpetuating the corrupt system and getting used to paying the indirect tax of campaign contributions, year after year after year - #Occupy has taught us that we can expect more of ourselves than that.

Flickr photo, "Occupy Philadelphia October 8th 2011," by Craig Fineburg.

What's Wrong w/ This Picture? (Deconstructing Senator Dodd's Outrage at the SOPA Blackout)

Assume for a moment that it's acceptable in a democratic society for a former US Senator to become the chief lobbyist for a trade association based in Washington DC that represents Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures Corporation, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros.

Screen shot 2012-01-18 at 9.01.30 PMEven making that assumption, isn't it unseemly for the man to continue to refer to himself as "Senator?"

But so he does.

His bio states he has been "a key participant in nearly every major national policy debate over the past three decades." And that participation continues.

Here is what "Senator" Chris Dodd, the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), had to say about yesterday's blackout protest against SOPA and PIPA (emphases added):

"Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

"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. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this 'blackout' to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy."

Some questions, by way of unpacking Dodd's fascinating sentence, "It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today":

  • What power was Google, or Wikipedia, or Reddit, abusing? The power each exercises as a "gateway to information?"
  • Who gave "these companies" the "freedoms" that they "enjoy in the marketplace today?"
  • Does the observation that the corporate protesters' enjoy freedoms "today" imply that the giver may, some other day, take those freedoms away?

Screenshot is of Senator Dodd appearing on Meet the Press as recently as two months ago. (Would Tim Russert have conferred upon a lobbyist such pride of welcome?) 

Save Democracy

I decided not to take my site down for Protest SOPA Day.

Instead, I want my site to do two things today: (1) provide links to sites with more information about the effort to defeat SOPA; and (2) offer a brief comment about how SOPA is symptomatic of our broken democracy.

Here are links about SOPA and the protest against it:

Here's my comment:

Before SOPA, there was PROTECT IP. After defeating SOPA and PIPA, there will be something else - unless we fix our government.

The overarching problem is that the US Congress is controlled by money, and the money is corporate.

Ninety-four percent of the legislative sponsors of SOPA received payments in the current election cycle from Time-Warner, Comcast, and/or the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The corruption is bipartisan in nature, too; a top Democrat seems as able to exact tribute for the bill as its Republican sponsor.

The corporations are not evil. They are doing what corporations are supposed to do. (Which of us, were she the CEO of a big media company, wouldn't take every legal advantage? Shareholders expect that, and should.)

The fault, rather, lies with natural persons: the Congress people who sell out, who don't expect more of themselves; the citizens who put up with lobbying, and advertising, and don't expect more of their country.

Tea party, #occupy, defeat SOPA - may they all coalesce.

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Photo by Kevin Dooley.

The OPEN Act and Crowdsourced Legislative Drafting

The OPEN Act has instant credibility simply from the fact that Senator Ron Wyden backs it. Wyden is credited for having been the lone Senator to block passage of PROTECT IP, a predecessor to the SOPA bill now being pushed by House members who have been paid by a variety of cable and media companies.

I went to read the OPEN Act this weekend and was pleasantly surprised to find it on a site from Representative Darell Issa, not a person I would normally associate with good and transparent government, that makes it very easy to comment on and even to mark up the proposed legislative language.

Screen shot 2012-01-08 at 2.55.01 PM

I know little about the workings of the International Trade Commission, which is the body that the OPEN Act designates for handling the rogue foreign websites that Hollywood purportedly is after (really, they want to shut down US businesses that they find competitive or disintermediating). But in reading the bill, I got the sense that it's supposed to make sure that US businesses accepting the jurisdiction of US courts should continue to enjoy the constitutitonal, statutory and other other protections afforded US companies by US law, and so I tried my hand at tightening up the provisions that would appropriately limit ITC jurisdiction.

There are good sites with great ambitions - opencongress.org comes to mind - to serve as places where people can review and comment on legislation. I like the software Issa is using - the site calls it "Madison," after the founding father - best, because it lets you get right into the legislation, mark it up, and see your changes in the overall context of the bill.

If "Madison" develops to generate reports and other views that will let legislators and citizens slice and dice and compare the versions of legislative language so crowdsourced, it could be a very powerful tool.

Why the Tech Community's SOPA Revolt Feels "Pre-Occupy" - And Why That's a Shame

Don't hold your breath, but it just may be that the politics of turning SOPA into a law have turned.

Leaders in the tech community raised an alarm; an effective counter-SOPA campaign was launched; Congress-people were counter-lobbied; GoDaddy the clueless poster child was punished; the cynical grab for power by the cable media conglomarate was exposed and, possibly, neutralized.

So far, so good.

But there's an aspect to revolt against SOPA that troubles me.

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The strategy and tactics of the campaign seem drawn entirely from an era that pre-dates #OccupyWallStreet.

I'm having trouble explaining what I'm intuiting, but this analysis from a November 2011 article by Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic, "A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API," helps:

"The idea that our politics are not up to the serious tasks we face in fixing our economy and society has become widespread. Instead of pointing that out, as many have, Occupy Wall Street simply ignored mainstream politics. As the press clamored for position papers and lists of demands, OWS responded by paying no attention. There were two messages in that relative silence: 1) your media is inadequate to convey the scale of changes necessary and 2) your politics are inadequate to make the scale of changes necessary."

Why is it particularly important that the tech community "get" the fundamental #Occupy critique - a meta-critique of a system so appallingly corrupt it sells out even the appearance of reasoned policy making - and internalize it in its own nascent political awareness and activism?

Because the tech community understands information and it understands transparency. The former is its stock-in-trade and the latter is a cultural value associated with entrepreneurialism.

If the tech community could turn its attention, not to issue-advocacy in the same way that game is played by entrenched corporate interests, but instead to disintermediating payola politics, we might make it possible to hold legislators accountable, to incentivize them to make policy in a manner that leverages available knowledge and serves the common interest.

I'm not saying there should be a political party that speaks for the tech community. I am saying there should not be an imitation of the tired politics of lawyers, lobbyists and campaign contributions to match what the forces of darkness and complacency shovel out. More than that, I am suggesting that the tech community is positioned better than most to topple the current, corporatist shadow of democracy that would shame our nation's founders.

The alternative, for sure, is to just get smarter at understanding how the Congress of today works, organize within that system, establish outposts on K Street, perpetuate the corrupt system and get used to paying the indirect tax of campaign contributions, year after year after year.

Flickr photo by Magnus D.

Cable Industry Payments to SOPA Sponsors

Political action committees (PACs) for two cable companies, Comcast and Time-Warner, together with a PAC for the cable industry trade association headed by a former Chairman of the FCC, the NCTA, have contributed an aggregate $134,500 so far to the 2012 reelection campaigns of the sponsor and the 31 co-sponsors of SOPA.

In fact, of the 32 members of the House of Representatives signing on to sponsor SOPA, only two did not receive any current election cycle contribution from any of the Comcast, Time-Warner, or NCTA PACs. (The two are Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Peter King.) Most of the SOPA sponsors received 2012 campaign contributions from at least two of the three PACs. Seven sponsors received current election cycle contributions from all three PACs.

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Not surprising: SOPA originating sponsor Representative Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, received contributions from all three PACs. Somewhat surprising: Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz received more from these three PACs than Smith ($17,500 for Schultz, to Smith's $15,000).

Details are on this Google Doc spreadsheet.

Here's my methodology.

  1. I went to OpenSecrets.org and found a page there listing "TV/Movies/Music" PAC contributions to candidates for federal office for the 2012 election cycle.
  2. I then compared the top several industry PACs (listed in order of contributions) from the OpenSecrets.org site against a pdf on the House Judiciary Committee site listing private supporters of SOPA.
  3. Having identified the top PACs on OpenSecrets.org that were also listed by the Judiciary Committee as SOPA supporters, I drilled into the specific, legislator by legislator, contributions by those PACs as listed on other pages at OpenSecrets.org. (The relevant pages are identified in the Google Docs spreadsheet.)
  4. A PAC for the National Association of Broadcasters is listed as the second biggest contributer among the TV/Movies/Music PACs for the 2010 election cycle, but I did not include their contributions in the written analysis above because the National Association of Broadcasters does not show up on the Judiciary Committee pdf list of supporters of SOPA. (However, the spreadsheet has a column showing this PAC's contributions to the sponsors, which seems to match the overall pattern of the other three PACs.)

Stopping at three is just a reflection of how much time I had to flip back and forth from the OpenSecrets.org data on each PAC, and the spreadsheet listing SOPA's sponsors. It would be ideal, of course, to ferret out the financial contributions of each of the supporters listed on the Judiciary Committee pdf, or otherwise tease out patterns or aggregate contributions or surface "stealth" supporters of SOPA through use of the OpenSecrets.org (or other public) campaign contribution databases.

I don't begin to understand how contributions to entities set up to shadow but not "officially" speak for candidates might be traced, if at all.

OpenSecrets.org said the data I was looking at was based on Federal Election Commission data released on December 5, 2011. So it may not reflect additional payments being made recently to the bill's sponsors.

If you'd like to help me continue to build out the spreadsheet and/or keep it current, please say so in the comments and I'll send you a Google Docs invite to edit it.

Flickr Photo, "Auctioning off furniture at the old Canterbury Public Library building after it closed," by Christchurch City Libraries.

Who's Your Go Daddy?

Re SOPA:

The problem isn't really Go Daddy or Washington lobbyists or even the MPAA.

Candy-Sugar-Daddy-UnwrappedThe problem is the Congress.

Remember how the patent reform law passed this year addressed the problem of software patents? 

It addressed software patents by ignoring them, except that it didn't ignore them for the banking industry. Wall Street paid Charles Schumer to fix the problem for them, and he did.

I really like this comment from dclowd9901 on Hacker News:

"I think the mature thing to do, as cynical as this might sound, is to realize that the government is obscenely out of touch with its constituency, and stop going to them for help. Instead, influence the influencers.

"At the end of the day, all companies have is customers. If the customers stop utilizing their services, the companies are forced to stop pushing their anti-consumer agendas into legislation. Part of this is utilizing the Internet, as it now is, to circumvent the old ways of doing things.

"Essentially, while it is free, startups should be focusing on helping consumers circumvent traditional industries.

"We all hate banks as they are. Let's reinvent them.

"We all hate telecoms. Let's try to create startups that can compete with them.

"We all hate loan institutions. Let's disrupt the loan structure, allow people to privately invest in one another on a micro scale. Hell, it's already being done for 3rd world nations.

"We have a real opportunity to change things and make them better. Get out from under the institutionalized world we grew up in. Why not?"

I really like the comment and I love the spirit.

But I also think the "why not" is that the influencers will continue to pay the Congress to undermine innovation and stack the deck against the disrupters.

The #Occupiers have tried to make it okay to say at home what we until recently thought was only okay to say about governments in other parts of the world: that no government is legitimate unless it is democratic. It shouldn't be that radical an idea, but it probably will take some getting used to, that we have the right to insist that the government serve the common good and not influencers.

Sugar Daddy Unwrapped from Wikimedia.

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