The Next Installment on the SOPA/PIPA Melodrama
It is touching that Senator Marco Rubio suddenly sees the light about PIPA. Unfortunately, in backing away from the bill that he co-sponsored, Rubio had to admit that he simply didn’t understand what he was doing. From HuffPo (link above)
In a frank statement posted to his Facebook page on Wednesday, Rubio hinted at a Beltway truth that many other wavering Protect IP and SOPA supporters have been hesitant to admit: More than one lawmaker signed on to the legislation without understanding its technical workings and potential problems, believing it to be an uncontroversial, bipartisan bill that would support American industries. (emphasis added)
I would add one other and perhaps larger embarrassment. Rubio et al did not bother to ask whether the increased protections for IP rights that are sought by Hollywood et al are needed. Instead, I would guess that Rubio — a senator from Florida, where Disney holds sway — took Disney at its word.
The blackout protest has brought out that Disney, et al should not have been trusted. After the blackout, at least thirteen other senators are now racing to the microphones to announce that they are also anti-PIPA.
Any lessons to be learned out of this legislative fiasco? I can think of two.
1. Let’s call a spade a spade - Greater protection against internet piracy (beyond the DMCA) is not needed. This was a power grab by Hollywood and a few others. Problems with piracy are the result of the business plans of IP rights holders — namely to maintain content scarcity and pump up prices rather than offer content more broadly for less. In short, it is time for Hollywood et al to wake up and smell the coffee. Embrace the enhanced capacities offered by technology rather than desperately cling to the past.
2. For the time being at least, the US Congress is dominated by special interests. Larry Lessig and others have been arguing for years now that this is a huge governance problem and they were right from day 1. US citizens need a tool to make legislators more accountable for what they are doing on the hill. If you want a more direct statement about the nature of the problem, check out what Seth Godin has to say. Ouch!
I love how this potential disaster has turned into a great story, with very important learning opportunities. And I love how web based businesses are starting to realize that they need to impact the debate about policy. We will see more on this, as there is a lot of work to do (1) to educate the public and (2) to build new tools and networks with the goal of leading policy discussion rather than reacting to crisis (like what happened here).
FOLLOW - A further reflection on Mr. Rubio co-sponsoring PIPA without studying it. We all do such things. What do I mean? I mean that we all act based on trust. We simply cannot be experts on all things, especially these days. So I do not begrudge Mr. Rubio trusting somebody. I do get a bit agitated, however, about his trusting lobbyists for Disney et al in this setting. Was he so completely unaware of what was behind their power play? Apparently, he was, and like a puppy dog in the long grass, he just rushed in … even where angels fear to tread. I also get a bit agitated about the lack of transparency in the relationships behind the scenes. Only now — after SOPA and PIPA have been thrashed about for months — do we see how easy it was to get these ideas on the legislative agenda and how challenging it is to get them off.
2d FOLLOW - Jaron Lanier offers a different take on all this. He writes
The adulation of “free content” inevitably meant that “advertising” would become the biggest business in the open part of the information economy.
That is, advertising agencies rake in the money instead of content producers. Here is his clincher
We in Silicon Valley undermined copyright to make commerce become more about services instead of content — more about our code instead of their files. The inevitable endgame was always that we would lose control of our own personal content, our own files. We haven’t just weakened Hollywood and old-fashioned publishers. We’ve weakened ourselves.
Hmm … I think this is bullshit. I was always pretty weak. Still, I defend Mr. Lanier’s right to confess his own weakness. I just would not pay him for the privilege of reading about it. In turn, that would cut off a potential dialogue, and hence we would have less potential for exchange. Less exchange means less chance for learning. Thus, the debate should not be about paying for access to content. That is a non-starter. It is about expanding opportunities from exchanges. Of course advertising is the first service that reaps a reward from this - after all, it is the crudest form of exchange facilitator.
3rd FOLLOW - Over at Wired, Julian Sanchez from the Cato Institute looks for evidence that piracy is a major problem - and finds a lack of evidence. He concludes
In short, piracy is certainly one problem in a world filled with problems. But politicians and journalists seem to have been persuaded to take it largely on faith that it’s a uniquely dire and pressing problem that demands dramatic remedies with little time for deliberation. On the data available so far, though, reports of the death of the industry seem much exaggerated.
4th FOLLOW - Ryan lawler at Giga offers more on how the Hollywood business model encourages piracy.
5th FOLLOW - Jon Stewart has great fun with the chit chat in Washington.
6th FOLLOW - As usual, Fred Wilson has some reasonable suggestions to get beyond the current messy situation.