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SOPA and PIPA: What went wrong?

Grant Gross | Jan. 24, 2012
For Internet activists, last week's Web protests against two controversial copyright enforcement bills were a huge victory against three powerful and well-funded trade groups that pushed hard for passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

"The strategy was to push a one-sided approach, ignore objections and rely on your well-financed friends on the Judiciary Committees simply to approve whatever you give them," Shapiro wrote in a blog post. "The overreach was so huge, the arrogance so large, the result so horrid, that they truly hurt their so-called friends. That's why the legislative process should have fair and balanced hearings."

Just the facts

Finally, supporters of the bills didn't convince the public about the facts.

Supporters of the bill, including Leahy, Smith and some trade groups, repeatedly complained about misinformation spread by the other side. There was plenty of misinformation to go around. Some opponents insisted the bills would "kill" the Internet, when that was an exaggeration.

But Smith and Leahy insisted there were no free speech problems with the bills, when many websites likely targeted by the bills have comment sections or other content protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And the MPAA's Dodd, appearing on the Morning Joe television show on the day of the Web protests, insisted there was no "private right of action," Washington code words for private lawsuits, in the bills.

Despite Dodd's claims, SOPA and PIPA would allow private copyright holders to file lawsuits forcing online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with accused websites.

Supporters of the bills also have claimed billions in dollars in lost profits from foreign rogue websites, while opponents have raised questions about those estimates. Supporters have said online piracy costs the U.S. economy huge money, up to $250 billion a year, but several people, including the authors at Freakonomics.com, have disputed those numbers. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, in an April 2010 report, called the business of estimating economic losses from piracy "extremely difficult."

There's no disputing that piracy costs money and jobs, countered Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA. The U.S. recording industry sold $15 billion worth of music in 1999, while now it sells less than $7 billion, he said. "Digital music theft is not the only reason for that decline, but we believe it is the primary one," he said.

The RIAA hopes critics of the two bills are sincere about their stated desire to work on constructive solutions to online piracy and counterfeiting, Lamy added. "Ultimately, we helped to establish a national consensus that rogue websites were a genuine threat to consumers, manufacturers and the creative community," he said. "We have not agreed upon the best, most meaningful approach."

 

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