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Thoughts On SOPA: The Takedown, The Turnaround

Published on January 24th, 2012 by Matt Dusenbury

SOPA is dead. But the debate surrounding the bill, along with its senatorial counterpart PIPA, lives on. The talk has reached a critical level, and the standoff between big copyright holders and internet users seems to be inching closer towards an endgame scenario.

What the bills did, more than anything else, is crystalize for a generation of netizens just how deep ignorance and arrogance runs within the political and economic framework of the United States. There are several examples of this, but what is most troublesome are the statements of Chris Dodd, the Chairman & CEO of the MPAA (and a former senator and congressman for almost four decades), who went on Fox News after SOPA’s defeat with a warning to politicians,

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. 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.”

It is remarkable that Dodd is, in effect, admitting that he and his cohort are quite literally trying to buy laws that favour the decaying practices of their industry, no matter what their broader implications or ramifications. In essence, Dodd is openly threatening, on national television, to politically kneecap those in Washington who stand opposed. The White House has since been petitioned to investigate the comments.

These recent events are nothing short of a revelation. They confirm what some already assumed was happening behind closed doors. No longer is this merely about online freedoms and the sharing of content, but the discussion has morphed into a larger one – the collusion between politics and big business, a co-opted system, that is trying to extend its reach from the physical realm to the digital one. It should be no wonder why there was an intense pushback against SOPA; it signaled the first shot in a newfound showdown.

It is worth noting that SOPA, in one form or another, will reappear soon enough in the U.S., and the potential for similar restrictions exists here in Canada as well. Another battle over this issue is sure to play out, online and off, but this latest may have been a tipping point. Big content groups may get their way, eventually, but they will do so at the cost of alienating the public, and strengthening the resolve the very people targeted by this type of heavy-handed legislation. And those who accused opponents of the bill of being “pirates” and “whiners” this time around should question whether or not the MPAA, the RIAA, and other groups really do have their best interests in mind with the legislation they draft, since they themselves are a part of the user base these groups clearly hate, and aim to destroy. As we’ve seen, the people who run these groups are so well funded, politically connected, and mean-spirited they would risk the destruction of civil liberties if it meant a return to their former profitability. As Clay Shirky pointed out in his latest TED talk on the issue, their success is, in fact, in no one’s best interests but their own.

It is not just the rhetoric, but the aggression that is ramping up, and it will only grow more intense moving forward. Tech blogger Marco Arment makes some good points on this, noting that the long term solution for this issue resides in political reform. In the meantime, however, perhaps all those of the internet’s creative class – musicians , filmmakers, writers, and producers – work to build up a new means for media to exist online, rather than siding with the established. Put another way, perhaps it’s finally time to kill Hollywood.

Updated:

Bolstering the notion that large media lobby groups are trying to wield their influence unjustly, it’s worth taking a look at this article from Ars Technica, that goes through and dissects everything that is wrong with the way they do business and how they frame the piracy debate for their own benefit. Additionally, see this article from Freakonomics that resounding cuts down the industry’s methodology for estimating piracy numbers, inflating them to sway public and political opinion. The whole thing is worth the read, but here is perhaps the most salient detail from the article, on how lost sales (of any number) from piracy do not equal a losing economy, as these groups suggest,

“Even in the instances where Internet piracy results in a lost sale, how does that lost sale affect the job market? While jobs may be lost in the movie or music industry, they might be created in another. Money that a pirate doesn’t spend on movies and songs is almost certain to be spent elsewhere. Let’s say it gets spent on skateboards — the same dollar lost by Sony Pictures may be gained by Alien Workshop, a company that makes skateboards.”

There are three kinds of lies in the entertainment industry: lies, damn lies, and the MPAA’s statistics.