On the Opposition of SOPA
(The opinions expressed here aren’t necessarily those of WPBA.)
SOPA and PIPA have been beaten to death in the mainstream media. We’ve seen both perspectives: generally, copyright holders support SOPA, and content consumers oppose it. But, Instapaper developer Marco Arment, who’s app is responsible for aggregating and re-presenting web content, brings up a great point: implicitly, both ‘opposing’ and ‘supporting’ the MPAA and RIAA help the copyright holders fight for increased copy protection and push draconian legislation through the legislature.
First, let me explain what is meant by ‘opposing’ the MPAA and RIAA. We’ve seen over the past weeks and months a democratic form of opposition — website blackouts, anti-SOPA petitions, etc. That is constructive opposition, but what I’m talking about here is instead ‘acting in a way that undermines the goals of the copyright organizations and SOPA legislation.’ Such actions include limiting lawful media consumption and pirating or illegally copying digital movies and music. In this sense, opposing SOPA actually gives the MPAA and RIAA more ammunition to push the legislation through Congress. So, while democratic protests are productive, boycotts of movies and music will lead to an increase in pirating, which will actually hurt artists and move SOPA-like legislation through Congress.
Now, here’s the interesting part: by fulfilling our legal duties and consuming content through legal digital channels such as Pandora, Netflix, and Redbox, we’re inherently helping harmful legislation move through Congress. Think about it — when a user watches a movie on Netflix, for example, the movie studios and the MPAA collect royalties. In turn, these royalties are used to lobby Congress. Thus, the legal consumption of content helps the MPAA buy support in Congress for SOPA-like legislation.
So, if we can’t oppose SOPA through content boycotts and if following the law helps SOPA move through the legislature, how can we fight the legislation? I think that the Internet community did a wonderful job of protesting democratically, and eventually pressure on Congress forced them to shelve the bill. In the future, however, copyright holders will most definitely try to pass this legislation again. The Internet community will only be able to garner so much support as more laws like SOPA are introduced.
Arment, in the last paragraph of his post, suggests that:
So maybe, instead of waiting for the MPAA’s next law and changing our Twitter avatars for a few days in protest, it would be more productive to significantly reduce or eliminate our support of the MPAA member companies starting today, and start supporting campaign finance reform.
Campaign finance reform is a topic too broad to be addressed in this post, but I think the SOPA incident is a perfect way to garner widespread public support for a reform of the campaign finance and lobbying systems. We can keep protesting harmful bills on an individual basis, or we can eliminate the problem at the source. I may be cynical, but I think a strong, one-time push for campaign and lobbying finance reform has a much greater chance of success than a series of repeated democratic protests.