Would Obama Veto SOPA? Extremely Doubtful

from the too-much-money dept

I usually like the work of Arik Hesseldahl, who's pretty sharp in his reporting, but it appears he may have waded into a subject where he doesn't have much knowledge, in arguing that Obama would likely veto SOPA should it pass out of Congress and land on his desk. Arik's summary is that Obama "likes the internet," so he'd probably veto such an anti-internet bill. No offense to Arik, who perhaps just wanted a quick holiday post on the subject, but that shows little understanding of the history of Obama on intellectual property issues, or the many, many signals that the administration has been giving over the bill. In fact, the signals suggest pretty strongly that if the bill landed on his desk today, President Obama would sign it into law with little hesitation -- and declare it a victory for the economy and American jobs.

No doubt: there is a significant split inside the administration from everything we've heard. Much of the State Department is strenuously opposed to the bill, knowing darn well that it would do significant harm to their efforts to push internet freedom and openness around the globe. SOPA supporters love to point to the letter that Hillary Clinton sent to Rep. Howard Berman about how there's no conflict about protecting intellectual property and working for internet freedom. But they're significantly overplaying the letter, which was written before SOPA came out and didn't mention SOPA at all. In fact, it would be a hilariously bad breach of standard protocol for Clinton to take a position on a bill before the White House made its official position clear, and everyone involved in the debate knows that, even if they pretend otherwise. Either way, multiple sources within the State Department have made it abundantly clear that State has been putting tremendous pressure on people to either fix SOPA or kill it altogether. They're not happy. Ditto for many in the Commerce Department, who see how bad it would be for the economy to have a bill like SOPA in place. The feelings there aren't quite as strong as at State, but they definitely appear to lean towards opposed (or, at the very least, neutral).

There are also voices in both Homeland Security and the Defense Department who are worried about the online security aspects as a part of the DNS blocking features of the bill. Of course, those voices are likely outweighed by those who like the ability to shut down domains -- such as ICE, who would gladly support SOPA. The Justice Department, also, appears to be a huge, huge, huge supporter of SOPA, seeing as it would give them much greater powers to shut down websites.

Then, of course, there's the White House itself. And, again, there appears to be a bit of a mix of feelings there, but the leaning definitely appears to be towards supporting the bill. Throughout his administration, the President has left almost all intellectual property issues up to Vice President Joe Biden, who has been about as big a copyright maximalist as can be. He's the guy who claimed that the heads of the biggest entertainment companies represented "all the stake holders" (public be damned) in a roundtable about intellectual property that he convened two years ago -- from which the ideas behind SOPA and PIPA came. It's safe to assume that he's totally on board with the bills, and since Obama defers to him on these issues, you can expect this issue is pretty much decided. There are a few others in the White House who may weigh in on the subject, including IP Czar Victoria Espinel. Again, the likely guess is that she's in favor, having supported the plan to seize domains which is related to SOPA & PIPA. Others in the White House include the CTO, Aneesh Chopra, who hasn't given much of an indication of where he'd fall on the issue, but has supported open internet initiatives in the past. If I had to guess, I'd say he's mildly against the plans, but not enough to make a big deal about it. If anything, he'd probably prefer that the bill be adjusted to make it slightly more palatable and then have it pass and be signed.

Finally, there's Obama himself. Heading into what may be a difficult election year, and dependent on money from Hollywood and unions (the big Democratic funders), this is an easy call. He'd sign it in a heartbeat. Any bill that has the support of the MPAA and the AFL-CIO is red meat for him when it comes to fundraising. The whole "loves the internet" thing is great... if the internet donates. The internet was certainly useful to Obama in the primaries last time around, but when it comes to the big fight, he needs the big guns. So he's looking for the big cats, and those still support the bill in a big, bad way. If you want a blueprint for how this works, just look at how he signed the patent reform bill a few months ago, despite widespread complaints among the tech industry about how the patent system was totally broken and the bill didn't help at all. He still signed it and declared (incorrectly) that it would stimulate new jobs. He'd do the exact same thing here. Sign it, point to the AFL-CIO and US Chamber of Commerce support and talk about how this was a "jobs bill" that would "help the economy" by "protecting American jobs." The internet? Meh. No one cares about the internet when Hollywood and the unions have checkbooks open.

The only way that changes is if SOPA and PIPA become so toxic that any support is seen as career suicide -- and if that's the case, then the bill itself probably doesn't get out of Congress to get on his desk in the first place. Getting GoDaddy to switch positions is one thing. Getting these bills to the toxic level is a whole different ballgame, and we're certainly not there yet. For those celebrating the "victory" over GoDaddy last week, this fight is far, far, far from over, and the MPAA and the other supporters of SOPA don't give up easily. Both SOPA and PIPA are dangerous in the extreme, and still have a decent chance of passing, if people don't speak up directly to the politicians who continue to support these bills.

Filed Under: joe biden, pipa, president obama, protect ip, sopa, veto, white house

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  1. identicon
    demented, 27 Dec 2011 @ 5:49pm


    Ah, so you're admitting that you're part of the MAFIAA, huh? I knew it.

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