Wednesday, February 08, 2012

2.9.12 AFTERMATH



This article originally appears in the 2.9.12 issue of Metroland.

The dust is still settling from the epic defeat of SOPA / PIPA last month. Most major media outlets are still mischaracterizing it as a battle of Big Tech versus Big Media, which is a convenient way around the fact that it was The People versus Big Media. A few commentators, though, are gushing about the role of social media and the internet in bringing this about, tying it in with this week’s Susan G. Komen debacle. There’s certainly something to that; internet petitions and click-and-send letters to legislative representatives have been around for years, but it seems as though participation in them has reached some sort of critical mass.

It’s been argued that the importance of these things are over-rated – how seriously are we supposed to take a gesture that involves a few seconds and a click of a mouse? That’s not a bad argument, especially when you add that anti-SOPA / PIPA activity, for one day, was facilitated by the Google and Wikipedia webpages. This is the digital equivalent of having a really-nice looking person showing up at every house and workplace in the country and telling everybody within earshot that Congress is about to kill the internet, and would you like to tell them not to? Yes? Done!

My response is that the internet has made lots of things easier. You can buy a book or CD in seconds by pointing and clicking. You can re-up your driver's license the same way. Why should participatory democracy be any different?

The meaning and import of what just happened will become clear soon. What happens the next time Congress or the White House does something idiotic with regard to the internet will be instructive. This will be especially true if Google and Wikipedia sit out the next round, which I think is likely. Will the “movement”, if that’s what it is, continue without training wheels?

And what’s coming? Lots. Big Media is regrouping for the next round. There are reports that Big Media is blaming the loss on an over-emphasis on closed-door politics at the expense of “educating the public.” There’s talk of pouring millions into school programs that will teach the young ones that “piracy is bad.” Good luck with that. This will have all of the effectiveness of the endless drivel my generation was force-fed about marijuana being a "gateway drug." We were smarter than that, and so are our kids. A new Pew study found that SOPA/PIPA was kid's most-followed news story of the last month. They live on the internet, and they don’t want a bunch of grey-haired grown-ups messing with it.

Nonetheless, if you’ve got kids in school, you might ask them from time to time if the topic has come up in school and if there were any hand-outs. You should know if your school is dishing industry propaganda, and if they are, a furious call to the principal would not be out of order. If you don't wanna do it, call me and I'll do it.

There’ll also be a more general public relations push. Take a look at RIAA toady Cary Sherman’s whiny and delusional op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times. What a victim! What bullshit! The Hollywood Reporter ran an article last week that implicitly assumed the Big Lie that SOPA / PIPA would have been fine laws, but they were falsely maligned by a massive Big Tech PR campaign. The article featured Hollywood public relations experts suggesting how the next wave of bills should be sold. One great idea was a big social media push under the slogan “Occupy Creativity.” I threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read this.

Also be on the alert for the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) treaties, that the US Trade Representative is trying to cram down the collective throats of much of the rest of the world. The "agreements" were “negotiated” in secrecy (and TPP is still being worked out) and appear to lock-in every signatory country's intellectual property laws to minimum standards, and include the kinds of vague language that could easily be used to justify legislation that's dangerous to speech, privacy and the internet. Like SOPA / PIPA.

ACTA has been a particularly hot issue in Europe over the last couple of weeks, with the Polish and Czech governments suspending any legislative activity about ACTA pending further study. A few dozen Bulgarian MP’s wore Guy Fawkes Anonymous masks during a legislative session in which ACTA was passed. Following weeks of significant public protests across Europe, February 11 has been designated as an international day of anti-ACTA action. This is gonna be good.

Over here, the Obama administration has taken the position that the US can ratify ACTA without any Congressional action, which is a huge stretch. Congress, informed and awakened by its SOPA / PIPA experience, might well challenge this.

But they might need another push. Speaking of that, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are still listed as sponsors of SOPA / PIPA. You might want to ask them why.

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property attorney who operates out of a secret lair deep in the forests of the Berkshire Mountains. He can be contact through his website www.paulrapp.com

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