For those of you who came to this blog today for fun stories about real people, I apologize. I just couldn’t help myself. I need to comment on a global thing that we are in the middle of . Sort of an internet tsunami thing. If you are not into that, stop back again another day. I will get back to “the good life” and real people. I promise. But in the meantime …
A long, long time ago — and it seems a bit funny now — I felt somewhat isolated here in Tartu. I couldn’t get any English language newspapers and TV wasn’t very informative. To try to keep up, I listened to BBC world news via shortwave radio at night and subscribed to the paper edition of The Economist (there was no internet edition). That is the way it was back in 1994. Well, things have changed. And this is just the beginning.
Consider what has just happened in Washington. Thinking that no one would notice, the US entertainment industry (let’s call it Hollywood), represented by very clever guys over at RIAA and MPAA, thought they could pull a fast one. On behalf of Hollywood, RIAA and MPAA drafted bills to crack down on “overseas internet piracy”. The bills were called SOPA (the house version) and PIPA (the senate version).
BTW, my hat is off to the MPAA and RIAA folks for their great marketing idea. By labeling this as an attack on “overseas piracy”, they made it seem like they were being patriotic. After all, who in Washington would dare support overseas piracy? Domestic piracy … well, maybe. But certainly not the foreign stuff!
Ok, back to the story. Years ago, I would not have even heard about something like this. Or at best, I might have found out well after the bills were passed. But things work differently now. Not only could I read the bills and follow the debate about them. I was able to track the debate on this blog, and while doing so connect with a lot of interesting folks. I learned a lot. And the story gets better. I watched as the folks I was following used the internet to try to stop the silliness. And they did! Hooray! At least for now.
But wait. Silliness? I realize that silliness is a strong word. But based on what we know via internet, SOPA and PIPA were not just bad ideas. They represent an odd silliness coming out of Hollywood. If you think otherwise, consider this quote from Fred Wilson
… these two bills were drafted by the MPAA and the RIAA and walked into Washington without an iota of conversation with the technology industry. I can’t tell you how many Senators and Representatives have told me that they were told by the MPAA and the RIAA that the technology industry was on board and that these issues would not impact the Internet and tech community adversely. This is no way for one industry to propose that Congress regulate another industry. I think it is absurd that one industry would have the arrogance to think it is appropriate to ask Congress to regulate another industry for them. And yet that is what went down on these bills.
Put that in your pipe an smoke it! What else can we call this but silly? So thanks to the internet, we have caught those smart folks at MPAA and RIAA with their hands in the cookie jar. Bad boys and girls! What fun!
But the story gets better. Yesterday, my brother sent me an email with a link to an article by Dave Pogue of NYT. Years ago, I would have missed this too. But now I had a chance to check out what Dave, from the illustrious NYT, has to say. He attempts a balanced look at SOPA/PIPA. Before I comment on Dave’s article, I would point out that Dave is a smart guy and I generally like his reviews of new gadgets. But sorry Dave, your analysis of the bills did not pass the laugh test. Why? Well, I may live over here in Tartu, but I read the relevant parts of the bills and I read the commentary and based on all of the above, I gotcha. I know that you missed the main points of the debate.
But the story gets even better! This morning, I see via Techmeme a response to Dave’s article by Clay Shirky. Clay is a lot smarter than I am, and he lays out the argument why Dave is full of horse poop in a broader historical perspective. Ouch!
And it gets better still! I see this article as well
MPAA Directly & Publicly Threatens Politicians Who Aren’t Corrupt Enough To Stay Bought
Ouch! Want to see what this is all about? Check out this quote from chief Hollywood lobbyist Christ Dodd about the “support” (money) that the MPAA gives 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,”
Interesting. I wonder if Chris Dodd has a clue how bad this looks to folks who just fought off an arrogant power grab by Hollywood. Moreover, we know anyway that Hollywood jobs are not at stake — except for Hollywood’s refusal to adapt to new technology, and instead use lobbyists like Chris Dodd to … well … to do what people like Chris do. BTW, you might contrast the above view of Chris, with the fluff piece NYT ran about him the other day.
So - bottom line. A long time ago, it would have been impossible to get into these issues from where I am— here in Tartu, or from where you are, where ever you may be. It is now a whole new ballgame.
And this is just the beginning. There is some serious disruption going on. And that disruption is offering “the rest of us” great opportunities to see what is going on and react, even if we are not insiders. That is one reason why we need to protect the internet.
FOLLOW - When I saw Clay Shirky’s response to Dave Pogue’s article, I was reminded of that great scene in Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall.
A brief aside - Hey, Hollywood! I am linking to Amazon to give you free advertising here - and hope that people will order the DVD or pay to stream the full film if they can. You’re welcome.
Back to the story. Woody suffers from listening to the idiot behind him in the movie ticket line pontificating about Marshall McLuhan. This being a comedy, Woody is able to produce the real McLuhan who tells the blowhard off. You can see the excerpt here. Woody says “Boy, if life were only like this!” Well, the irony is that Hollywood apparently would prefer that life is not like this at all.
2d FOLLOW - Am I coming down too hard on Hollywood? I admit that I am being rather tough. On the other hand, so are they. They are playing the power game the way they think it should be played. I don’t think the game should be played that way. That is why I am being tough on Hollywood.
3rd FOLLOW - This is how the above NYT fluff piece on Chris Dodd ends
The real message, said Mr. Dodd, may be that further change is in order for the motion picture association, which represents Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers. The group, he said, lost focus and energy after Mr. Valenti’s retirement in 2004.
The companies, Mr. Dodd said, are “rethinking everything,” not just about the bills, but about their relationship with an estranged Silicon Valley.
That need for rapprochement, he said, “has come home in a way that no rhetoric of mine could express.”
Rapprochement with Silicon Valley? Hmmm … what about rapprochement with the rest of us?
4th FOLLOW - Joel Spolsky has a good idea. Instead of just waiting for Hollywood to try again to strengthen IP at the expense of exchange, internet advocates should develop their own legislative agenda. I am all for it. Not because it is against Hollywood, but because the ideas that Joel mentions — aside from the ponies — are good ideas.
5th FOLLOW - Clay Shirky gives a nice TED talk where he lays out the core problem - and why some of us are so agitated about what is going on. But - Christ! It seems that Senator Lamar Smith has yet another bill in the works that once again will reverse the innocent until proven guilty standard. The cover now - protecting us from child porn.