Oh my God, entertainment industry people are still pitching for SOPA

You'd think that the proponents of SOPA[1] would give up that legislative dead parrot's ghost. But they're still doing the rounds on radio and in print, claiming that millions of Americans were 'duped' into opposing their harmless little internet censorship law.

The fresh (!) talking points go like this: Wikipedia, Reddit, Boing Boing and others 'lied' to the public about what SOPA was in the crucial final moments, 'abused our power' by going dark for a day, and thereby tricked legislators and the public into turning on a much-needed new law.

What rot.

First, the facts of SOPA's sloppy definitions, domain takedown provisions and weakening of safe harbor protections are are very well-known; this renewed insistence that everyone misunderstood them is gaslighting performance art. SOPA was an indiscriminate lashing-out at everything the entertainment industry hates, from unrepentant criminals to the technology that turns their castles into sand.

Second, the claim that blanking our websites was an 'abuse' says much about how corporate lobbyists view free expression: as something to be regulated like a rent or privilege. We went dark to make clear to our readers what could happen to websites affected by SOPA and PIPA: darkness.

Finally, SOPA could never have stemmed copyright infringement or anything else that it claimed to address. The only possible outcome was social harm, and the industry would have been back at the congressional trough soon enough.

And yet, post-defeat, here they are on radio stations and TV spots and op-eds across the nation. This lingering of the January fog shows just how certain they were these laws would pass. They thought they'd nailed it, and they just can't give it up.

The important lesson to draw from this is that they don't know why it fell apart.

Would you hold still, please, sir?

The claim that SOPA and PIPA contained no censorship provisions is brow-furrowingly odd. As originally written, the laws explicitly targeted domestic websites, making it even easier to get them taken down than is already the case. Safe harbor provisions in copyright law were superceded, further incenting service providers to kill on demand. Moreover, SOPA provided for courts to interfere directly with the domain name system.

Some of these provisions were changed only after public objections, a superficial fix to an awful law that still contained all the legal frameworks and implied enforcement costs that it was designed to impose.

When proponents of the law call its critics liars, remember why they're so defensive about it. It's because those criticisms were true, even on the proponents' own terms, until the law's passage was in doubt. To the end, it accurately represented the entertainment industry's desired state of affairs.

Because of SOPA/PIPA's vague definitions, for example, even .com and .net sites like Boing Boing could be subject to court order, as we look like search engines if you squint at us just right. We wouldn't have to be the targets of a SOPA claim.

Just today, we've been snarled up in a dispute between hi-fi component distributors fighting over the licensing rights to market a particular foreign brand. One asked us to remove a link to the other. If these laws had passed, they could simply SOPA up the other guys, and the first we'd hear about it is a judge ordering us to remove posts about them from our "search engine."

SOPA was a feast of potential SLAPP tools to indirectly burden websites with. Just as music labels and Hollywood can't figure out why SOPA failed to pass, they can't see how useful it would have been to everyday cranks, bullies and shakedown artists.

Hollywood's so fixated on influencing Washington through campaign contributions and lobbying, it can't imagine that political movement occurs naturally, without being stoked by cash. Listening to spokespeople talk, the very idea of unpaid-for influence seems unfair to them.

A specific example: on Wednesday, Taylor Hackford of the Director's Guild of America spoke to NPR. His dudgeon over everyone's lies was standard fare. But he also cast his organization as little guys silenced by the might of the tech industry. The guild sees itself as the victim of political rough play. But the truth is that the guild spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on lobbying. It projects anger at others' advantages because it cannot grasp why graft fails.

Hollywood, let me ask you something. If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

Was SOPA's defeat a last-minute upset? Like the 'overnight' success of a band after 10,000 hours of toil, the truth is more complex. Its dangers were immediately clear to many, and the outcry built over the course of months. The participation of big guns, which only committed to joining the blackout after many smaller sites had already done so, was the culmination of a genuine netroots campaign.

And yet the public—with more than 10 million petitioners before blackout day—are, in Hackford's view, "dupes". That's what these guys think of you. They loathe you and underestimate you and have no clue at all about why you do what you do.

You should admit your situation

The strangest new development in pro-SOPA argumentation is to remind us that they don't need SOPA to shut down U.S. websites, because they can already do that by other means. It's the most tone-deaf rhetorical talking point yet: "why would be need SOPA to consor you when we already can?"

And censorship is certainly what results. Just yesterday, the U.S. Secret Service, with the help of tech industry lickspittle GoDaddy, confiscated the domain of JotForm, a popular web form service. A single customer was accused of using it abusively. As a result, content was removed from thousands of legal websites, apparently without a court order.

"I told them we are a Web service with hundreds of thousands of users, so this is a matter of urgency, and we are ready to cooperate fully," the site's founder, Aytekin Tank, said in a thread on Hacker News. "I was ready to shutdown any form they request and provide any information we have about the user. Unfortunately, she told me she needs to look at the case which she can do in a few days. I called her many times again to check about the case, but she seems to be getting irritated with me."

SOPA wouldn't have created this kind of bungling censorship, but it would have made it more readily available to the America's most spiteful and shameless litigants.

What's a real shame is that the music and film industry's main strategy is to demand laws that protect them from change. They're the world's most committed investors in new art and new culture, and they've already been shown by companies like Apple and Amazon how to master the new media. But faced with the prospect of selling their products on terms customers get to define, they'd rather screw themselves.

1. SOPA and PIPA were the House and Senate versions of the law, respectively.



  1. If we didn’t have such “spiteful and shameless litigants” in the US, MAYBE SOPA/PIPA wouldn’t have been so bad. But we do.  So it would have been.

  2. The worst thing about the Jotform takedown is that SOPA was just about foreign websites – apparently the U.S. Government already exercises SOPA like authority to arbitrarily shut down domestic websites without due process of law, and its already generating massive collateral damage, and we’d have to get a new law passed to stop it! In other worse, the real situation is much, much worse than many of us thought!

  3. Just as music labels and Hollywood can’t figure out why SOPA failed to pass, they can’t see how useful it would have been to everyday cranks, bullies and shakedown artists. 

    What are you talking about? The Music and Movie industries are everyday cranks, bullies, and shakedown artists. They know exactly how useful it would be.

    They just have more money than the others.

  4. The thing I really can’t figure out about the standard *PAA narrative: They claim that big, mature, viable companies and organizations like Google and Wikipedia were willfully twisting the story.

    But they never address why. I mean, isn’t that the obvious question if you follow what they’re saying? What do Yahoo, Google, Wikipedia, and the like have to lose from SOPA/PIPA? I mean, seriously, they can’t expect people to believe that these groups are just simply mistaken and misguided. You don’t rise to the top of an industry if you’re just stupid.

    Have any of the SOPA/PIPA supporters tried to address why these big companies found it necessary to oppose the law? Why someone like Wikipedia would care?

    1.  One line of argument that they present is that these organizations are making millions of dollars off of piracy. Most of them don’t stop to think about the fact that Wikipedia is a non profit organization. The ones that do are almost stumbling for their tin foil hats in the course of their rationalizations – Hackford apparently referred to Wikipedia as a “stalking horse.” The not too subtle implication is that they think Wales was paid to rally “his troops” to the cause. You might be a SOPA supporter if you weren’t being carefully manipulated by rich, evil liars.

      I really think Bezchizza has it right when he says “That’s what these guys think of you. They loathe you and underestimate you and have no clue at all about why you do what you do.” I think they really believe this stuff.

      Its a classic case of projection – they’re lobbyists – they live in a world everyone’s opinions are bought and sold and manipulated by big partisan pundit machinary. They have no respect for the opinions of the general public because they literally can’t imagine the concept of genuine informed political opposition on an Internet where individual people can read the actual text of legislation and form their own opinions and are not just parroting some rant from a paid pundit.

      They really think democracy is a white unicorn. Most of the time – it is.

      1. “Most of them don’t stop to think about the fact that Wikipedia is a non profit organization.”
        Yep, Wikimedia Foundation is a non profit corporation.  Just like Citizens United, another non profit corporation.  And thankfully, according to the Supreme Court, Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t have to justify itself as a special “media corporation” or anything else if it wants to engage in free speech, even free speech that is “electioneering” or opinions about the idiotic politicians sponsoring these terrible bills.

        The MPAA and RIAA don’t really care about free speech when it comes to broadcasting their message to the masses.  All they need is to talk to the politicians directly.

        1. I agree. I’m glad the Supreme Court decided in favor of Citizens United. The regulations they overturned were the wrong solution to the right problem. We need thinking in that area that is a little more creative than “corporations like Wikipedia and BoingBoing don’t have the right to freedom of speech.”

          However, Wikimedia and Citizens United are different kinds of non-profits and Wikimedia might face some reasonable tax consequences if they spent a substantial amount of money on “electioneering.”

    2. That’s part of how a spin machine works. You avoid those questions at all cost.  Pretend that they don’t even exist.  You have to deliver one message and never deviate from it. And for heaven’s sake never ever let a philosophical discussion emerge.

    3. “You don’t rise to the top of an industry if you’re just stupid.”Ahem.

      Snark aside: these guys don’t have a fucking clue what they’re doing. They saw Big Tech opposing SOPA; they don’t need to know why.

      That being said, I would like to see someone like Taylor Hackford answer that question…

  5. Can someone explain why Google wouldn’t just stop serving search results for (say) UMG content?

    If there’s a risk that they could be shut down for linking to an infringing site, surely the safest course of action is not to allow *any* links to UMG’s products at all…

    1. I think they could effectively prevent US advertisers from doing business with foreign infringing sites and that would significantly reduce the economic incentive to run a big media host (which is an expensive to do), but that sort of solution requires reasonable due process with a third party decision maker and not the BS process that SOPA described.

      The Copyright Power is not willing to take that and run with it – they want more. It’s a pretty stupid game they are playing – they have managed to infuriate every objective person on the planet, and they have tarred every idea that they have with the black mark of having been associated with a radical power grab, and for what? They could be busy killing the business model of pirate sites right now if they’d been reasonable about it, but instead they are busy writing nutjob opeds for the New York Times accusing everyone on the Internet of being liars and criminals.

      This is democracy. Its complicated. If your job is to get legislation passed and you can’t do it because you are too stupid and radical to listen to the other side’s expert witnesses and come to a reasonable compromise, you have no one to blame but yourself.

      1. What the Copyright Power really wants is an “Internet Kill Switch” sitting on their own desks.  The wording of SOPA and PIPA allowed just that.

      1.  Censorship under any circumstances is unacceptable. That’s pretty much the only real moral that the internet works on.

    1. I second that. I don’t want to read trolls, and bone up on trolling techniques. But I wouldn’t be a proper BB reader if I didn’t think “wait, what?…” whenever I come across a ‘Comment Removed’ sign. It’s like a zit: you know it’s probably hiding a well of pus but you can’t leave it alone.

    2. I agree. How about instead of removing the comment, hide it with the option of revealing it with a mouse-click? I just hate to see “Comment removed.” and try to figure out what it said based on the replies .

  6. I’ve also been engaged in German discussion about ACTA on Google+ today… the problems with all the copyfighting is that it’s taking up so many resources that would be much better employed elsewhere.  And yet, we liberal netizens have no choice but to keep speaking up against those proposed laws / treaties / whatever, because if you don’t pay attention and keep everyone alert they might just sneak something by. That way it’s taking up our time as well, time that we otherwise could productively spend elsewhere… *sigh*

    1. The funny thing is that in the US (unlike in Europe, as I understand it), overall there are many more liberal politicians supporting these bills than conservatives, especially after the protests.  The typical explanation has to do with Hollywood’s strong support for the Democratic Party in the USA.

  7. I don’t think they’re trying to convince us. I think this is intended for the Congress-folks who got cold feet at the last minute.

    The goal is to lure them back into the fold, convince them that the public reaction against SOPA didn’t represent anything of actual political significance but was simply a stunt orchestrated by a few nerdy scofflaws, and give them some talking points to use next time around.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the lobbying operation is doubling down on the expensive lunches and the promises of campaign donations in the run-up to ACTA or Son-of-SOPA or whatever the next attack will be.

  8. Rob:
    This is a brilliant analysis of the issue, what happened and why SOPA was defeated.  It also helps people see how they might keep coming.  My predictions:

    1) They will go further underground, arranging more secret deals with people they can buy. They will also see about buying up regional support and smaller players, building a “coalition of the willing” as it were. “Don’t Forget Poland”

    1a) They will also chip away by picking up smaller bits and pieces that aren’t as noticeable or are obviously egregious (they will learn from the people who created the phrase “partial birth abortion” and used it to chip away at Roe v. Wade.)

    2) More deception with the bills. Starting with renaming the bills, “The  Creating Jobs in America for Artists” Bill or the ” Freedom from Censorship” Bill.

    3)  Work to convince those mature players (Google etc) that they really should be on their side.  “Hey Facebook, if you play nice with us we won’t sue your users for minor violations.”
    4) Work to change the mind of the “duped” public. We are seeing this now. I suspect this will focus on the right who can be taught to fall in line, especially if they can be told that fighting this “hurts job creators” and “people just like you” They might try and make it a “national security issue” (When you pirate a movie, the terrorists win!)

    One of the things that I’ve observed in my years of watching these people work, is that they might learn a lesson, but they will not stop. The lobbyists and PR people are not paid to stop. They are paid to keep going. They will look into their tool box and see, “Okay that didn’t work, what next?”

    It takes a lot of energy to oppose them, passionate people who are busy with other things. It just takes some money on their part to figure out how to get what they want, and they will use the creatives, who need the work, the lobbyist who want the money and they politicians who need to fund their campaigns.

    One thing that frustrates me is that we are often in “reactive mode” waiting for them to react and then fighting, often on their turf. One thing that would be good would be for a group of people who defeated SOPA to go on the attack.  To not just wait for the next strategy to reveal itself. To develop a strategy of actively thwarting them by getting them arrested for their overreaching, bribery and lawbreaking in other areas. Keep THEM tied up in court for their illegal acts (and I’m sure we can find some) . Of course they will whine “they are picking on us!” but they always whine and play the vicitm.

  9. If we’d just done as they asked and enact laws banning casette tapes, audio CDs, VHS tapes, DVDs, etc. maybe they’d actually have been allowed to take their war on technology to the inevitable conclusion of them going bankrupt long ago.

    The industry is enthusiastically attempting to shove a shotgun in their mouth, and for decades congress and the public have been grabbing the barrel and making sure they can only blow superficial chunks off of their own faces bit by bit.

    In retrospect, it’s easy to lament the fact that we protected them from committing suicide long ago, and they’re still so angry about the favor we did them that now they want to make sure that when they die, they take our society down with them.

  10. Call me slow, but I’m just now getting the old school entertainment conglomerates and the fascist elements of the republican party are both dying an ugly, spasmodic death right before our eyes.  Neither plan to budge an inch and make increasingly loud noises as we slowly push their sweaty corpulent bodies into the fire. I mean really, doesn’t that pretty much explain 90% of the news nowadays?

  11. Maybe the entertainment moguls just want their money back … the money they spent buying this legislation in the first place.   I know if I paid big bucks for a Congressman, I’d be pissed if they didn’t hold up to their end of the deal.

  12. Its not really ignorance that they are doing this its thous dam dollar signs. They dont use it so it does not effect them at all. Its weird we need the government but yet i still hate the old dirty bastardes. The system does not work when everyone is at their owen tempo. I feel like its the end of animals house where the marching band is in the alley just marching in to wall.

  13. What I find ironic is Taylor Hackford’s involvement in this. He should be well aware of the risks this kind of power has on creativity. His film “The Devil’s Advocate” was nearly forced out of theaters (and was forced to be edited for video) by the sculptor Frederick Hart for using a sculpture that looked like one of his works. Imagine Mr. Hackford’s reaction if suddenly no one was able to even find him on IMDB, Wikipedia, Amazon, Netflix, etc. because Mr. Hart decided that all connections to the offending image should be censored, collateral damage be damned.

  14. I submitted comments opposing SOPA/PIPA to my Senators on their web forms. One of them added my email address to his “Hey! Let’s reelect Ben!” mailing lists. He and his staff have no concept that reelection and governance are supposed to be different. Lobbyists will always find a way to exploit that.

  15. I’m a filmmaker, and I still don’t get why the industry I work in has gone batshit crazy over this thing.  Even if I put on my “greedy asshole” cap, I can still think of great ways to monetize “free content”; it seems to me the so-called pirate sites have handed a great business model over to Hollywood — put the films online for free, like Megaupload did.  Have ads.  Then a subscription model to remove ads.  You’d kill true pirate sites, and with social media integration, you could better engage with the fans.

    Film has a built-in anti-piracy measure — the theatrical screening.  You still can’t build a sound system like that in your apartment, or that ginormous screen!  And nevermind 3D (just a way to watermark films people!) — no one wants to see a crappy cam version of a film anyway. 

    And artists who back this crap are like thieves peddling in stolen goods.  It’s gross.

  16. yeah…  Boingboing & Wikipedia like sites are lying to people….   and everyone at the Emmys/Grammys is living off of ramen noodles because of the copyright infringement woes.

  17. “The strangest new development in pro-SOPA argumentation is to remind us that they don’t need SOPA to shut down U.S. websites”

    I should point out that under the DMCA _any_ website may be seized by The US Secret Service or its International Division – called ICE.  Proof of this is the Swedish file sharing website MegaUpload.

    1. Yep. The gov’t already has the power to shut down sites. It shouldn’t be a surprise.

      The bills were never written to just handle overseas piracy and money lost there. In fact, it’s really easy to see how neither bill can do anything to control the traffic of stolen material once it’s left the U.S. All they can do is prevent re-entry, so overseas pirates are free to continue selling in their home countries. 

      What they were hoping people would ignore if they said “it only affects out of country piracy” was the inclusion of amendments not related to “overseas piracy” but to things like trafficking in counterfeit medications, altering the ways in which people could be prosecuted for online play of material they didn’t have release for, use of image copyright material and more – all domestic, in what was claimed to be a set of bills targeting “nefarious foreign pirates”.

      If the intent was to change domestic law, they needed to openly address THAT issue, and openly change those laws – not sneak amendments into a larger bill. They were trying to sneak one past us, and they failed. We know they lied.

      Spoko is right. They’ll come back with other bills named in ways that will seem to have nothing to do with the Net, and we’ll have to keep reading content to see when they try to change domestic law to suit their taste.

  18. The studios won’t stop on these kind of efforts, no matter how public opinion goes.

    You need to understand their mindset.  I wrote a whole post about this here: http://fotv.biz/2012/01/24/nothing-is-over/

    In summary, the major issue is that the studios are bound into contracts with both the people that supply them with entertainment and the people that distribute the content to actively force these kinds of issues.

    There are multiple other issues that contribute to the mindset of continuing a march toward SOPA/PIPA laws.    

    You are right, they want laws that protect them from change. It’s the classic Innovator’s Dilemma issue.

    Then again, it’s nothing new.  Car companies fought against seat belts and air bags for decades and now use safety as main selling point.  The telephone companies are notorious for hiding behind government tariffs to lock in profits and make it harder for competitors to succeed.  Light Squared just got nuked by entrenched telcos using the FCC processes to kill their entire investment.

    The fight won’t stop until the underlying drivers change.

  19. [The] claim that blanking our websites was an ‘abuse’ says much about how corporate lobbyists view free expression: as something to be regulated like a rent or privilege.

    Let’s not forget that the MPAA/RIAA/Big Media types made their money through regulating what was published (e.g. selecting film projects to ‘green-light’, talent scouts, slush piles etc.), and then pushing discrete, physical units (i.e. records, box office tickets, copies etc.)

    As cruftbox observes, this means there’s a twofold desire to continue to push for SPOA-esque legislation: The content selectors such as Paramount, CNN, UMG etc., and the content packagers who actually burn the CDs and print the books and all that.

    More importantly to me, Big Media not only promoted certain narratives as Big Culture, they also regulated the narratives of Big Culture.

    Big Media Selectors want to continue to dictate what our Big Culture Stories look like – the ones we all know about because they’re ‘green-lighted’ and given the most media attention. Big Media Packagers want to continue to control access to same.

    In other words, it’s the old one-to-many broadcast model – but one powerful enough to change US/Western culture’s worldviews. If you control what stories – myths – or facts – are told to the people, you control what they believe and think.

    Now along comes the Internet where anyone can broadcast to anyone who ‘tunes in’, weakening Big Media’s power to dictate Big Culture in three ways:

    1. Circumventing Big Media’s selection monopoly
    2. Derivative works that ‘dilute’ the Big Message (e.g. fanfics)
    3. Circumventing access restrictions (e.g. piracy, on-selling copies on eBay)

    In a rational world, the Big Media companies would have already retooled for a Steam-style online purchase and POD system, allowing them to monetise people’s creativity and desire to engage with rather than merely consume their culture.

    Unfortunately we don’t. Decades of inertia and entrenched assumptions about how things are Meant To™ work have proved that, and as such, we can expect this fight over who (if anyone) should dictate the shape of our society’s culture to continue.

  20. Its time to go on the offensive. These people are breaking the USA. They are traitors and enemies of the People. Its time we start perp walking them and their cronies to jail.

    We need to find entities that know how to create the appropirate class actions and legislative actions to declare the RIAA and MPAA as anti-trust. That continued frivolous law suites against customers and citizens end in the CEOs of the companies bringing these suits go  to jail and are fined out of the 1%.

  21. That interview with Taylor Hackford was very enlightening.  Everybody should listen to it to hear exactly what the the proponents of SOPA are saying straight from their own mouths!  I tried to listen with an open mind – they have their side too, right?

    But I found him extremely distasteful. Hackford’s general tone was “if you don’t agree with us, you’re an idiot.” And also, “we’ll screw everyone we can until we get our way.”  Those big company Los Angeles entertainment types have such an inflated view of themselves – I bet they’re very surprised to realize that not everyone loves them as much as they think.

    If Taylor Hackford is trying to change minds to support SOPA-like legislation with these arguments, his attempt has backfired with me.  He promises a long war until he gets what he wants.  Well, he can now count on me as a soldier to fight against him as long as it takes.

  22. Unfortunately, this isn’t over. The moneyed corporations aren’t going to let a single failure rue them over. The goal — next time — is to insert the legislation inside more critical legislation like education funding, etc. Or bury it beneath word play. We are our own defense. Our name is Legion for we are many

  23. Yes, it’s about as ridiculous as the idea that the way to protect net neutrality is to give the government in general and the FCC in particular more power.  Real net neutrality violations are like censorship that the net routes around.  Give the FCC the power to enforce it, and they’ll soon find tortuous ways to claim that protecting net neutrality means protecting kids (and the rest of us) from obscenity and untrustworthy websites selling pirated goods.

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