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First things first: huzzah. Today Senator Reid announced today that he is postponing the Tuesday vote on the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Moments later, Representative Lamar Smith shelved the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). This is a fantastic day for the internet, and the internet community at large. As we have mentioned before, this was not some “Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley” industry-on-industry regulatory fight. This has been a fight between a set of narrow interests and everyone else. Today all of your work paid off and the House and Senate finally realized that the process is fatally flawed.
No More Damn the Torpedoes
While the mortal wounding of PIPA and SOPA is important in the immediate term, today also signals an important change in the copyright debates here in DC. Until today, Big Content has been able to justify just about any change in law – no matter how collaterally destructive – if they could make a straight faced argument that it might possibly have some impact someone infringing on copyright somewhere in the world ever. This "damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead" attitude that assumed damage to anyone else was acceptable in their pursuit of copyright infringers is going to start having a bit less currency here in DC.
Amazingly, up until now, copyright policy has been one of the few things that appeared to be unlimited by the need for balance. Fighting terrorism is a national priority, and installing cameras in everyone’s house to monitor them all the time might stop a terrorist act, but we recognize that the costs of such an action is not worth the benefit. However, copyright owners like the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) have pushed crazypants legislation for years while dismissing anyone who objected as not caring about American jobs.
Reminding lawmakers that “the MPAA says it isn’t a big deal” is not a valid response to concerns about copyright enforcement overreach may be the biggest legacy of the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement.
What Happens Now?
It is time to start over.
Throughout this process – which has lasted well over a year – we have had a simple message for Congress. Let’s really identify the problem and then bring together everyone – content owners, technology companies, innovators, consumers, members of the public – to try and find a solution. Instead of relying on imaginary numbers, initiate an open, inclusive, fact-driven inquiry.
Longer term, things get a bit more complicated. The bad ideas that Big Content was pushing in SOPA in PIPA did not come out of nowhere. They have been pushing them for a long time, and are not going to drop everything just because one version of it died. While it is licking its wounds today, Big Content is just hoping to ride out this spasm of public attention and go back to pushing policies that do almost nothing to reduce copyright infringement but do a great deal to disrupt the free flow of information online.
So what happens now is to celebrate, but also stay engaged. We at PK are here in DC every day fighting for the kinds of policies that encourage creativity, innovation, and speech, and against the kinds of policies that cripple critical networks merely because a few companies have not figured out how to adapt to them. If you haven’t already, sign up for our email list to the right, follow us on twitter, and friend us on facebook. That way you can rest assured that the next time big content companies start pushing laws that hurt everyone else, you’ll see it coming.