“We’ll be back”

The decision last week to shelve the Senate’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its companion House bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), was hailed as a victory by many firms and individuals who had made “Stop SOPA” a rallying cry.

By the time Republicans debated last Thursday, the bills were dead enough that the four remaining candidates all denounced the legislation in one way or another. Only Ron Paul went beyond the headlines to say:

“This bill is not going to pass. But watch out for the next one.”

As Clay Shirky points out (in a response to a recent column by David Pogue), we always have to watch out for the next one.

Established content industries have been battling technology since technology became a part of how we create, manage and disseminate content. As William Patry points out, this is seldom a battle for the rights of authors or creators. Most often, it’s an attempt to preserve an existing, profitable business model at the expense of consumers.

The debate has shifted a bit in the past week to examine whether big-media companies failed to report on SOPA (because doing so did not help their corporate interests). I’m more worried about the reporting that actually did occur, because it is almost breathtakingly bad.

From CNN’s John King repeating the company line (“Those who support the law, Senator, argue tens of thousands of jobs are at stake”) to an Associated Press (AP) lead that described SOPA as “legislation that would curb online piracy“, the media that did report failed to even ask the basic question: How do we know this is true?

If you read my work with any regularity, you know how strongly I support copyright. I distinguish between the instance of piracy, in which files are uploaded and downloaded in a way that infringes upon copyright, from the impact of piracy.

So it was with some incredulity that I read what Mike Nugent, executive director of Creative America, had to say to AP about the web-based companies that opposed SOPA:

“In fact their business model is being asked to be subjected to regulation. They’re misleading their huge base.”

Those who favor a change in the law to “protect” copyright may not have a huge base, but they have done a pretty good job of misleading. The GAO has looked at piracy studies and found all of them lacking, even baseless. Let’s come up with a shared understanding of what is really going on before we risk undermining the web.

Unfortunately, many people have tried to get the movie and music businesses to develop better numbers. It hasn’t helped. These are companies and associations that are working with Congress to preserve a business model. And that’s why they’ll probably be back.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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