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 Safe harbor provisions in copyright law were superceded, further incenting service providers to kill on demand.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.