SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) have become recent buzzwords, as the Internet was rocked on January 18 by protest blackouts from Wikipedia, reddit, and other websites. Both bills would essentially seek to stop Internet piracy by forcing removal of DNS entries of websites accused of hosting even links to infringing content. (A DNS is what directs your browser to the correct server when you type a URL such as “www.theventriloquist.us”.) SOPA and PIPA would essentially turn the tech industry into an enforcement arm for Hollywood’s interests, as websites would have to scour every bit of user-submitted content for anything possibly infringing or risk being instantly shuttered. SOPA and PIPA would also create a toxic environment for startups; new sites would have to hire enormous teams to review content and defend in legal battles. Furthermore, the requirement that Internet service providers remove DNS entries of offending sites would fracture the technical integrity and security of the Internet, vastly increasing the propensity for cybercrime.
The list of SOPA/PIPA opposers is long: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and a number of technical and DNS experts. The January 18 protest was largely successful, with a handful of Senate co-sponsors renouncing PIPA support and scores of Representatives swinging to SOPA opposition, ultimately resulting in both bills being tabled. However, SOPA and PIPA only tell a small part of the story when it comes to Hollywood’s willingness to use any means necessary to keep itself afloat.
SOPA was introduced on October 26, 2011. PIPA was introduced on May 12, 2011. Neither bill received a shred of media coverage until the January 18 blackouts. Why? CNN is owned by Time Warner. Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are owned by the empire of Rupert Murdoch. ABC is owned by Disney. All of these parent companies, and others, publicly support SOPA/PIPA. They stand to benefit financially from a successful curtailment of piracy: MPAA analysis claims $20.5 billion in annual industry losses, though a more accurate number is $446 million (as industry numbers don’t consider whether a pirate would have otherwise purchased the content, which is rarely the case). And we’re expected to believe that the American mainstream media are unbiased? Purveyors of truth about the current political climate? No. Rather, the mainstream media tacitly refused to cover the bills because their hands were tied by the Hollywood conglomerates that own them. News coverage of SOPA and PIPA was entirely limited to tech blogs and user-centric sites like reddit until the tech industry forced the mainstream media’s hand with the unprecedented blackout. Even then, mainstream coverage of the blackout virtually dissipated in one day’s time.
Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes influence on the American political scene is not limited to censorship of media. Since the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, media titans have been pouring money into Congress. Senator Patrick Leahy, who introduced PIPA in the Senate, received a combined $772,250 in campaign donations from companies supporting SOPA/PIPA. Representative Howard Berman, a cosponsor of SOPA, received $303,550 from pro-SOPA groups, significantly more than any other Representative; he also received $376,000 from groups in connection with PIPA. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has received over $3.5 million from pro-PIPA lobbyists, and insisted for weeks that PIPA go to immediate floor vote despite reservations from a number of his colleagues.
All this is to say that Hollywood has developed an unholy relationship with the news media it owns and greases the wheels of politicians to defend its interests. Why does Hollywood feel the need to defend itself so vigorously? Much-maligned media-sharing site The Pirate Bay has some interesting analysis: “The reason they are always complainting [sic] about ‘pirates’ today is simple. We’ve done what they did. We circumvented the rules they created and created our own. We crushed their monopoly by giving people something more efficient. We allow people to have direct communication between each other, circumventing the profitable middle man, that in some cases take over 107% of the profits (yes, you pay to work for them).” Essentially, Hollywood has developed a business model that has become unworkable; so, instead of adapting to modern times, they reached into the minds of news consumers and the pockets of politicians to tip the scales in their favor through asinine legislation and censorship of opposition.
The solution to this problem is simple in theory, but challenging in practice. Citizens must be absolutely vigilant in uncovering the truth of current events. Don’t trust what you see on the mainstream media; instead, frequent alternative news sites, user-centric sites such as reddit, and international sources like the BBC. Never take the reporting of one source as true; verify it with others and uncover all sides of the issue. Support free speech and oppose censorship in all forms, online or otherwise. Contact your Representatives and Senators and tell them how you feel about current legislation. The power of corporate dollars is strong, but the combined voice of American citizens must be stronger if freedom is to prevail over the looming force of censorship.