Thoughts On The House Judiciary Committee's Hearings On SOPA
from the some-good-some-bad dept
As some of you know, I spent three plus hours this morning watching the House’s SOPA hearings, with the deck stacked against anyone who pointed out concerns about the broad overreach of these bills. I “live tweeted” my thoughts, and apparently did so so much that, at one point, Twitter cut me off for having “exceeded my limit”! I had no idea such a thing was possible. The other technological issue of the day was that the video stream from the House was terrible for the first half of the hearings. It was choppy, at times it would stop, speed up, slow down or cut out entirely. The fact that they were using crappy streaming products really says something about the House’s knowledge of technology. Seriously. BitTorrent just released a new streaming video product designed to handle high volume events… but, of course, the House won’t bother with something like that. There’s definitely a joke in there somewhere about how those who set up these hearings, on a bill that would make unauthorized streaming a felony, were unable to handle the technology for streaming.
Below, I’ve embedded a bunch of my tweets, along with those of a few others who were covering the hearing, which you can also see over at Storify. I’ll list out a few thoughts, however:
- I was slightly surprised at the number of Representatives who expressed clear concerns over different aspects of SOPA. Reps. Lofgren and Issa were expected to come out against it, but it wasn’t clear who else would do so. Among those who expressed significant concerns were Reps. Lungren, Jackson Lee, Waters, Cohen and Johnson. Their concerns may have been different, but all had significant concerns. Lungren worried about the problems with breaking DNSSEC. Jackson Lee, Waters and Johnson worried about the impact on entrepreneurs. Johnson worried about how China and Iran would view this law. Cohen, similarly, worried that the entertainment industry had expressed concerns about Russian and Chinese search engines, and if Google were forced to block them, that it might lead to diplomatic issues, and Russia and China deciding to retaliate against Google.
- Both Lofgren and Issa were extremely well informed and able to drill down on issues that others ignored. Issa, in particular, pointed out a key point: that we already have the ITC to deal with foreign patent issues, so why not let the well-known proven ITC process deal with copyright issues as well? He’s apparently introducing legislation to that effect. While I have some concerns about how the ITC process works for patents (mainly in that it gives “two bites at the apple” in some patent cases), this actually is a much more compelling idea that should be explored further.
- The lack of any technology expert on the panel was glaring and made the Judiciary Committee look bad. Rep. Lungren made that clear by asking every panelist to respond to former DHS official Stewart Baker’s concerns over DNS blocking… and got back blank stares and admissions that no one on the panel had any particular knowledge about that issue. This seems like a huge indictment of how the panel was constructed — without any interest in dealing with the significant problems of the bill.
- The MPAA and some of its supporters on the Committee repeatedly claimed that you could just go to Google and put in the names of movies and find pirated versions. The two examples they used were “J. Edgar” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” If you actually Google either of those, you don’t actually get pirated versions, but official sites, reviews, news, etc.
- The MPAA’s Michael O’Leary showed support for regimes that censor the internet, by saying that “the internet isn’t broken” in places like China and Iran… He really should spend some time there speaking to those who have been censored.
- There were numerous questionable statements from different Representatives about how musicians and filmmakers need this. Yet, as we’ve seen (on this very site), many such musicians and filmmakers think that having a working internet, with cool and useful services, is more useful and important than propping up the big studios and labels who haven’t adapted, and never had the artists’ best interests in mind anyway. Rep. Deutsch said that the next Drake might not make music because of piracy. That’s kind of funny since Drake has said he doesn’t mind piracy and actually scolded Universal Music for issuing takedowns on music he purposely leaked.
- Along those lines, the really amazing thing is how few people pointed out that the real problem here is the industry’s failure to adapt. Rep. Quayle worried that the only business model available to people, if piracy were allowed, is an ad-based business model, and fretted that this would cut off business models based on paying for content. Yet… some of the most popular services online today are pay for content services, including Netflix, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.
- Some other bizarre statements included Rep. Ross mocking Google for suggesting that it was okay when Google chose sites to block, but somehow if the government got involved, that was a First Amendment issue. Except, there’s nothing mock-worthy there. That’s actually the law. Google can choose what sites to block, but the government telling them what to block is censorship. Kind of strange that Rep. Ross found that to be a crazy suggestion. Rep. Poe had a “stealin’ is stealin'” comment. That’s nice, but “infringement” ain’t “stealin'”
- Lots of complaints from Reps. about how the tech industry didn’t suggest anything better than SOPA. This is a lie. Tons of folks in the tech industry offered up ideas, drafts, suggestions, etc. Plenty of folks in the tech industry offered to sit down, meet, discuss. And all of that was rejected by the authors of the bill.
- Google was clearly the pinata. As we expected, they were chosen to present because some felt they were easy to dismiss. Rep. Amodei, after admitting he doesn’t understand technology, called Google execs “pansies.” Rep. Smith used Google’s trouble over online pharmacy ads to suggest this issue was the same thing — where somehow the company is getting rich off of “piracy.” Lots of others attacked as well. None of it made much sense.
- That said, I was disappointed by Google throwing Wikileaks under the bus, by using the example of how MasterCard, Visa and Paypal starved Wikileaks for cash, leading that site to shut down. Defining Wikileaks as a rogue site certainly raises some questions. I understand why it may have served as a useful example, but…
- Once again, disappointed that Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, seems so out of touch on this issue. She kept insisting that there was no problem with the bill, no liability issue, no change to the DMCA, etc. That’s clearly not true. It’s a shame. She should be better on this.
- And… that’s about it. Nothing too surprising came out of the hearing, but it was interesting… And it certainly has driven a lot of new interest in the bill and its consequences.