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Readying For Round Two

by Paul Rapp on February 9, 2012

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 vs Big Media, which is a convenient way around the fact that it was the People vs 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 A. 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 overrated. 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 in 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!

The meaning of what 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 overemphasis 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 the most-followed news story of the last month by kids. They live on the Internet and they don’t want 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 handouts. 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. There’ll also be a more general public-relations push. Read RIAA toady Cary Sherman’s whiny and delusional op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times. What a victim! The Hollywood Reporter had an article last week that assumed that SOPA/PIPA were fine bills, just maligned by a massive Big Tech 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 U.S. trade representative is trying to cram down the collective throats of much of the rest of the world. The agreements were “negotiated” in secrecy (actually, TPP is still being worked out) and appear to lock in every signatory’s control of intellectual property laws to minimum standards, and include all sorts of vague language that could justify all-sorts of Internet crippling activity. 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 pending further study. A few dozen Bulgarian MPs wore Guy Fawkes Anonymous masks during a legislative session in which ACTA was passed. Following weeks of significant public protests across Europe, Saturday (Feb. 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 United States can ratify ACTA without any congressional action, which is a huge stretch. Congress, informed and awakened by its SOPA/PIPA experience, might challenge this. But they might need another push. Speaking of that, Sens. 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, paulrapp.com.