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Caught In The Spin Cyce... Why You Are Probably Wrong About SOPA

Now that a national hissy fit has been thrown regarding proposed legislation to stop rampant internet piracy (thus cowing the bovine politicians we sometimes mockingly refer to as our 'leaders' into submission),  I think we should look at the real issue at hand regarding SOPA. 


Nothing more, nothing less. Unless you consider trafficking in stolen goods to be a valid exercise of your First Amendment rights. If you do, then please read no further.

Internet piracy is a real and devastating problem. It has decimated the music industry, and is in the process of decimating the movie and television industries. I remember the days when getting a song on a television show or in a movie was considered small potatoes, because there were much bigger fish to fry in the music business. Now, film and television is about all that's left. The rates they pay haven't gone up... they've gone down. Like a reverse adjustment for inflation. But you'll take a quarter when you used to make a dollar, if that's all that's being paid.

I'm neither expecting nor desirous of sympathy. I'm one of the fortunate few in this world who gets to follow his passion in life... partly from luck, partly from fate, with a good deal of help from friends and family, and to a large extent from pure narcissism and stubbornness. I just want to express an alternate view from what I perceive as being the near hysterical and borderline paranoiac view of SOPA that is now prevalent on the internet.

Money equals power. A tremendous amount of money has been accumulated by a few people who I will refer to as 21st Century Internet Moguls. In cahoots with these Internet Moguls are Internet Pirates. A gang in New Zealand just got busted with records of $500 million in profits last year from pirated material. That's a lotta dough. A pirate's $500 million profit is the rightful owners' $500 million loss. You can play semantic games with the logic of that, but.... $500 million here, $500 million there, pretty soon you've got a billion dollars. Annually. From one pirating site.

Because they operate from foreign countries, like Belarus or Estonia or wherever, these Internet Pirates are difficult to control. The douchebag in New Zealand apparently had a server in Virginia, and thus was breaking U.S. laws. And I'm sure the officials in New Zealand were more cooperative than the officials in, say, the Ukraine would be.

Being that it's almost impossible to stop most of this piracy due to jurisdictional issues, the powers that be from the entertainment industry (who I'll refer to as the Hollywood Moguls), in conjunction with such supposedly nefarious allies as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO, went about influencing Congress to draft legislation that would allow them to stop this outflow of funds from the United States. In order to do this, they had to make culpable the participants who are in the United States, and thus subject to U.S. law.

Enter the Internet Moguls.

In order to make the  Internet Moguls compliant, the Hollywood Moguls want laws with real consequences. My understanding is, as it stands now, if there is a complaint about copyrighted material being illegally distributed via Google or You Tube, they will voluntarily take it down. But this voluntary system is only stopping a fraction of the illicit materials being distributed. As soon as one site goes down, another pops up (ie. the same pirates just operate under a different name). Because this plethora of illicit material generates a lot of revenue, the Internet Moguls just look the other way until the proper complaint is filed. And so on. It's a wink and a nod system, with not even a slap on the wrist for the U.S. companies who are passively in cahoots with the Internet Pirates draining capital from the U.S.

I'm not trying to paint the Hollywood Moguls as being any more saintlike than the Internet Moguls. There are no saints involved.

People want the stuff that the Hollywood Moguls create, or there would be no illicit market for it and thus no problem. Not only do they create goods people want, they create lots of jobs. For writers, for actors, for technicians, for musicians and carpenters and painters and all the support people involved.

Most of those jobs are right here in America. Thus the involvement of the Chamber of Commerce, and the AFL-CIO. 

The Internet Moguls create jobs, too. No doubt about it. And that's why I would like to see the debate take place on the merits of the actual issues at hand.

But instead, the Internet Moguls have done a tremendous spin job, turning the debate into one about the First Amendment, by putting out alarmist propaganda about how your First Amendment rights are being threatened.

It is my belief that nobody involved wants to take away our First Amendment rights. The Big Bad Government, the Hollywood Moguls, the Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO... none of them. What they want to do is stop Internet Pirates from draining American resources.

The SOPA legislation is dead in the water. Maybe it was worded poorly. Maybe it over reached. But the piracy continues. And something will be done. The Hollywood Moguls will not just roll over.

When the next legislation comes through, and it will, all I ask is you don't listen to the alarmist rhetoric which will be inevitably spread by the Internet Moguls, who, after all, have lots of money at stake here too. If You Tube is legally responsible for its content, it could arguably break the company. Google is already seeing less than projected profits for its last quarter. It has everything to do with the money involved. It has nothing to do with your (or their) First Amendment rights. If I'm wrong, then it's an issue that should be argued before the Supreme Court, not the Twitter Court. 

The Internet Moguls will not roll over either. Nor should they. And the Internet Pirates certainly won't just go away. Action is needed, and will be taken. President Obama, politically astute man that he is, has distanced himself from the doomed legislation while simultaneously ordering his Justice Department to crack down as hard as they can on the pirates themselves.

My whole point is this. Because I believe us to be an intelligent people, I would like to see the public debate be based on the merits of the actual issues at hand, and not some sensationalist internet spin job designed to deflect attention from the real problem and its possible solutions.

Now, if I could only distill that down to a Tweet...









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Comment by Maggie Friend on January 20, 2012 at 9:47pm

There are some very good points in this piece: the reality of piracy, the monied interests of both the music and film industry and internet giants...However, it seems that you have written off concern for First Amendment rights as "spin."  Several thoughtful critics have pointed out the risks inherent in legislation that is too far reaching in its attempt to stem internet piracy.  It isn't just the internet giants who are talking about this and we are not all duped by their spin.  I, for one, am concerned about the timing of this legislation coming as it does on the heels of the Arab Spring as ideas about how to stem the flow of legitimate information during protests have been floated by many governments.  This legislation could have given them just the handle that they needed to have side-stepped the Constitution.  So, as you know, that's my angle on this.  I don't think that this is just a battle between monied interests.  There is something much more sacred at stake here.  

Comment by wiffledust on January 20, 2012 at 8:52pm

good luck with that distillation, david! :-) well i was and am very much against SOPA, but i am not for piracy either. i believe the bill as it stood was incredibly overreaching in an environment where government is getting out of hand with the overreaching stuff. i also don't believe there was anything in that bill that would have actually prevented piracy. now if a new bill comes along that makes sense, i will not automatically go hysterical.....but it must be a new bill. this one was a bad bill. ....your thoughts, however, as usual, are very carefully put together and fun to read. and i'm grateful you blogged for us!

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