Public outcry against the bill rallied enough opposition to keep it from sailing through. Google testified against the bill, MasterCard voiced some objections, and tens of thousands of users lit up their representatives' phone lines thanks to Tumblr. But it's not over.
Following the proceedings, I spoke with Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins. "Considering the makeup of the meetings, and how expectations were, it went really well" says Higgins. "It remains to be seen what happens next, but given positive experience [at the hearing] and outpouring through the EFF and other groups, things look better today than they did earlier this week."
Damned by Faint Opposition
It's not surprising that Google opposed SOPA, but much was made of the fact that Linda Kirkpatrick of MasterCard raised objections to the bill. However, it's important not to read too much into this. Kirkpatrick's objections to SOPA were not against the bill in general, but mainly that the response periods in the act are too short and compliance costs are too high. While that's better than unabashed support for the bill, it's basically another way of saying MasterCard might support the bill if it were tweaked to make SOPA less onerous for MasterCard.
Kirkpatrick's testimony does highlight the fact that we don't need SOPA to combat copyright infringement online, however.
Katherine Oyama, copyright counsel for Google, had more concerns about SOPA, but still fell into the trap of suggesting "carefully crafted" legislation may be needed.
Down, Not Out
Here's the biggest problem with SOPA and its companion in the Senate, the PROTECT-IP act: It presumes that legislation is in any way needed. The entertainment industry is already legislatively over-served. Higgins says, "a lot of the complaints and issues raised [as a need for SOPA] are already addressed with existing laws."
The problem is that the RIAA, MPAA, BSA and other parties aren't satisfied with anything less than immediate gratification and ridiculous penalties for anyone that might infringe – however lightly – on their copyrighted material. Couple that with law enforcement and legislators all too happy to grab a bit more power, and you have a real problem.
This Congress isn't the first go-around for this type of legislation. Says Higgins, "this is really the third iteration – it was COICA [last year] – the PROTECT-IP, and it's not getting any better. They've responded to criticism each time by making it worse. They're not going in the right direction, and no Internet censorship bill is a good idea."
That's a phrase that needs to be emblazoned on the front door to the House and Senate: no Internet censorship bill is a good idea.
Indeed, after massive public outcry some in Congress have (finally) come forward against SOPA. Reps Darrell Issa and Nancy Pelosi showed a little bi-partisan common sense and opposed SOPA. Senator Ron Wyden has long been opposed to the Senate version, and offers to read your name during a fillibuster, should it come to that. But why is it so difficult to muster up opposition to a bill that should never have been drafted in the first place?
As Matt Cutts points out, Hollywood is outspending Silicon Valley by an enormous margin. Last count? Companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google and Yahoo that have opposed SOPA and other Internet-damaging legislation spent about $15.1 million this year to lobby Congress, and $14.2 million in 2010.
If you add up 2010 and 2011 contributions/lobbying from Silicon Valley, it barely puts a dent in the $185.5 million spent by the entertainment industry in 2010 alone. Time Warner, Comcast/NBC, RIAA, MPAA, Disney, News Corp, and others have also chipped in about $94 million so far this year.
Cutts is optimistic, saying that SOPA has brought us closer to a "critical mass" of digital natives who rose up to defend the Net. "SOPA galvanized the tech community, from start-ups to venture capitalists to the largest web companies. SOPA was an unexpected shock and a wake-up call. Well, guess what? Now the Internet is awake. And I don't think it's going back to sleep any time soon. We might need to rally again in the near future, but we can do that. The Internet learns fast."
Perhaps. The Internet forgets pretty quick, too. We won this time, at least for now, but don't get cocky.