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Earlier today, a most extraordinary group of people sent a letter to Capitol Hill, in the latest round of the fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), telling Congress it was time to reject the well-worn lobbying of the big media companies.
More than 70 grassroots activist organizations and emerging Internet companies got up the nerve to show Congress that it was time to stop fooling around with bills that helped to generate the largest online protest in recent memory. More than 100,000 Web sites participated in the Jan. 18 blackout day. Tens of thousands of people called and visited their Congressional representatives, all with one message: These bills are dangerous, and shouldn't be allowed to proceed.
The letter, coordinated by Public Knowledge, said, "Now is the time for Congress to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective."
The message that there were, and are, fundamental concerns coming from a wide and comprehensive communities is one that doesn't come across in comments that big executives have made lately. It's a shame that Hollywood moguldom didn't get that message and instead is still playing make believe. Lawmakers should realize that their constituency in Hollywood is lacking a grasp of reality and missing the mark by a mile.
One hand, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman was quoted by deadline.com as saying at a conference that Hollywood didn't lose the SOPA/PIPA fight on the merits of their case. It was, instead, because there was "a lot of misinformation" from Silicon Valley. He blamed the "mob mentality" and "unfortunate rhetoric" for the bills' troubles.
Speaking at the same All Things D conference, Chase Carey, the number-two exec at Fox, said it was "the message getting twisted" by that nasty Interweb that caused the bills to go down. Carey admitted he hadn't read the bills, but rejected working with Silicon Valley on a solution. That's fine. It really isn't Silicon Valley's place to work out a solution with Hollywood anyway.
It boggles the mind that Hollywood, which exists to tell stories, thinks it has let its story get away.
Let's define the issue in a way Hollywood would understand, with this adaptation and then quotation from "A Few Good Men":
Int. THE COURTROOM
We are in a courtroom, in a tense moment of a trial. It's a court martial, and the participants are all in the military. At the prosecution table is Navy Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise in the movie), who has been performing unevenly throughout the trial, but now is gaining confidence. He's questioning Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), a decorated Marine commander who looks down on KAFFEE as if he's an inferior life form. Back and forth they go, with Kaffee asking and Jessep grudgingly answering, until this, from the movie (as opposed to the play from which the movie was taken):
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I'm entitled to them.
Jessep: You want answers?!
Kaffee: I want the truth.
Jessep: You can't handle the truth!
That's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Hollywood can't handle the truth about SOPA and PIPA.
First, they can't handle that there were dangerous elements to the bills. That was why so many people, the very people Congress left out of the discussion, were moved to get involved. The bills were much more complex than "cracking down on overseas pirates," and yet those pushing the bills either disregarded or didn't recognize the threats to a free Internet. Certainly their testimony before Congress didn't give any indication that they did either. When anyone brought up their objections, Hollywood executives and their legislative allies dismissed them. Who cared what cybersecurity analysts, law professors, artists, human rights groups, public-interest organizations and others had to say? Eventually the sponsors caved on the security issue, but only after a long-standing dispute.
Unlike the moguls, the activist letter recognized: "A wide variety of important concerns have been expressed – including views from technologists, law professors, international human rights groups, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and above all, individual Internet users. The concerns are too fundamental and too numerous to be fully addressed through hasty revisions to these bills. Nor can they be addressed by closed door negotiations among a small set of inside-the-beltway stakeholders."
Second, the executives didn't recognize that the protest against the bills was not a product of classic special-interest lobbying. It was not Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley. As this article in PC World (and other publications) showed, Google did not create the protest against the intellectual property bills. Rather a network of groups with substantive concerns worked with organizations from around the country, which, once informed of the dangers of the bills, spread the word to their members, and constituent organizations.
Third, there really is some question about what "the truth" is in these cases. The only numbers for "harm" come from the industry and haven't been duplicated by anyone. It's time to find out what the "harm" really is.
That time-out is necessary to "determine the true extent of online infringement and, as importantly, the economic effects of that activity, from accurate and unbiased sources, and weigh them against the economic and social costs of new copyright legislation. Congress cannot simply accept industry estimates regarding economic and job implications of infringement given the Government Accountability Office's clear finding in 2010 that previous statistics and quantitative studies on the subject have been unreliable."
This is too important to hand over law making to one industry, as Congress did in the case of these bills. Too much is at stake to try to rework the bills in a slapdash manner, behind closed doors. That's the truth.