Pro-SOPA Folks Push Fact-Challenged Op-Eds

from the at-the-sopa... dept

It seems that, in the wake of the big protests that helped shelve (for now, at least) SOPA and PIPA, the pro-SOPA folks have started pushing people to write op-eds in various publications about how important SOPA/PIPA are -- while simultaneously dismissing the concerns of those who opposed the bills. I keep seeing more of them, but wanted to dig into three recent examples, all of which show how the pro-SOPA folks are trying to distort the debate through either outright falsehoods, or carefully misleading statements.

We'll start with Duff McKagan, the founding bassist for Guns N' Roses. He wrote a piece for Seatle Weekly telling people to stop whining about SOPA and PIPA. The logic here doesn't make much sense to me. His argument is that people should have done big web protests about online infringement, not about attempts to censor the internet. Now, obviously, he thinks that's in his own best interests -- but, as we've seen pretty clearly over the years (and contrary to his claims), these reports of infringement destroying the entertainment industry is just not supported by the data.
The fury from the Internet class is that the broad language in the pieces of legislation will be bad for start-ups, might prevent the next YouTube, or give the government the ability to take down a whole site because of one link to copyrighted works. In short, they're opposed to the legislation because they think it will be bad for the Internet business.

Bad for business. Anti-piracy legislation could be bad for the Internet business. It almost takes my breath away. Internet piracy has claimed half of the recorded music business, and made the prospect of making a living as a musician harder for artists of all rank and file. Why didn't Google, or Facebook, or Wikipedia ever stand in solidarity with musicians, actors, and writers - most of whom have never known fame and fortune - as their works were stolen with no recourse on their sites?
No, actually, the fury was that it would be bad for internet users -- including, by the way, plenty of musicians. And, again, the evidence that piracy has "claimed" half the market is simply not there. The recorded music business was a temporary bubble, but that money continued to flow (and grow) into the wider music industry. And, the prospect of making a living as a musician has not decreased -- it's increased. What McKagan doesn't recognize is that, in the past, nearly everyone who went into the music business was not as lucky as he was. Nearly all of them ended up getting pushed out while making next to nothing. Today, however, thanks to the very "internet businesses" he doesn't care about -- companies like TuneCore and TopSpin and Kickstarter and Bandcamp -- plenty of new artists can make a living that they wouldn't have been able to make before. They don't have to rely on Universal Music or EMI or Warner Music or Sony Music. They can do it themselves.

Then we move on to Gavin Polone, writing for NY Mag, about why he supports SOPA and his theory for why the entertainment industry "blew it" in trying to get this bill passed.
I have funded two films with my own money and am considering doing a third. Most of the people working on those films were not rich people, but rather middle-class craftsmen who make high-five-figure to low-six-figure sums per year. My decision on whether to fund another movie, thereby employing more people, will be based on whether or not I get my money back on the last two, and my prospects for making money on another. If a film of mine is put on a file-sharing site like Pirate Bay, Movieberry, and Newsbin2, and is then downloaded to potential customers, I lose revenue. Nobody is going to pay to see a movie in a theater, rent a DVD, or legitimately download or stream a movie once they already have it from a free pirate site.
If you think that way, perhaps it's true. But if you actually don't have a closed mind and look around at what other people are doing and realize that people are more than willing to pay if you treat them right, the entire premise that Polone has is wrong. Of course, if you naturally assume that your fans are evil, then don't be surprised if they don't want to support you.
Other industries have laws to protect them against third parties whose businesses facilitate a crime. Why not entertainment?
Ah, the "lawless" argument. This is ridiculous. Copyright law has been adjusted 16 times in the last 35 years, much of it to deal with new digital technologies. To claim that there are no laws to protect you is simply ridiculous. But, more to the point, as we've said over and over again, the best protection is to connect with your fans rather than pretend they're all out to get you. Polone fails there. That's his fault, not everyone else's.
This is in no way censorship. A widely read op-ed piece by Rebecca MacKinnon in the New York Times likened SOPA and PIPA to China’s Internet firewall, which is used by that government to stifle criticism of its policies. This is a ridiculous exaggeration. There is no intent to suppress speech in these bills, only theft, and the risks of anyone being unable to find an outlet for their free speech because of SOPA or PIPA is minimal.
It is not a ridiculous exaggeration at all. And the intent of the bill is meaningless compared to how it will be used -- and we know that it will be used for censorship because we've already seen existing copyright law used for censorship. This isn't a theory, this is reality.
Blocking offenders will not break the Internet nor security. I’ve read numerous articles in which techies claim that DNS (Domain Name System) blocking — which forces ISPs to not allow access to sites determined to be trafficking in stolen entertainment — will undermine security and/or “break” the Internet. Like many of you, I am not versed enough on technical issues to explain how DNS blocking programs work or what may be the right method to ensure Internet security.
Uh, yeah. I don't get this crazy tech stuff, but I'm sure what all those "experts" say is untrue. Sheesh. He goes on to say that because he can't play online poker any more, and because some ISPs block child porn or malware, clearly blocking wouldn't break the internet. Perhaps he should try actually understanding the details next time. The big issue is DNSSEC, not just DNS, and even Comcast (one of the major supporters of the bill) has admitted that DNS redirects are incompatible with DNSSEC. Furthermore, the fact that he can't play internet poker any more isn't because of DNS blocking. It's because of a (questionable) US law that cut off money transfers to those companies -- an approach that many of the folks against SOPA/PIPA supported in the OPEN Act which allowed for exactly the system that made it harder (but not impossible) for poker sites to function in the US. Look, it's okay to not understand complicated tech, but to use an example that has nothing to do with the tech, and actually supports what folks on the other side of the debate are saying? That just makes you look silly...

Moving on, we have the new poster boy for the pro-SOPA movement, David Newhoff, who compared the arguments against SOPA/PIPA to the "death panels" used in the healthcare debate -- claiming that the arguments of internet users worldwide were no more truthful than the claims of death panels from the healthcare proposal. That's funny. It's also wrong. Lots of people opposed to SOPA/PIPA laid out detailed, factual arguments for why these bills were dangerous. And we have plenty of very real evidence of how these laws will be abused (and how existing law is already abused).

But what's really funny is that if anyone is guilty of "death paneling," it has been the pro-SOPA/PIPA forces -- insisting that their industry is being decimated, when it's actually growing. They're the ones calling things "piracy" and "theft" when we're talking about infringement. They're the ones talking about starving artists, when more artists are making money from their content creations than ever before. They're the ones talking about less art will be created when we're living in a time of massive abundance of artistic creations. Yes, there are exaggerations in this debate, but I'd put up the anti-SOPA/PIPA side against the pro-side anytime, and it's entirely clear that the anti-side has the facts on their side much more than the SOPA/PIPA supporters do.

Filed Under: attacks, facts, pipa, sopa


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jan 2012 @ 7:53pm

    Re: Even Rockstars Have To Worry About the Voice of the Internet

    Read this response, it's really well written.

    It's like the guy reads TechDirt or something, but he doesn't mention "reason to buy" and does only hint at connecting with fans.


    Rocinante [Moderator] 5 days ago
    Real name: Mark

    Hi Duff: I've been around Seattle a long time, since I was born according to my mother. I was in bands starting at the age of 14, hung around the U-District, Capitol Hill my whole life. I went to school in Ballard. I moved around, but for most of the '90s lived on Capitol Hill, ran a label to self-release records, then cd's, the ubiquitous van tours, the general struggle to pay for shit and not get much back. I met my wife because she worked for a music publisher in NYC. When it was just me, that was all good, I never once minded the low rate of return on my investment. I was happy to play for money, for drink tickets most times, have a beer with friends at the practice space, try and hustle some cd's here and there. As long as I could pay my rent, it was all good. At the same time you were going back to SU, I was going to Seattle Central, just because that previous life was eventually a bit much to bear, didn't want to be an old guy hanging out at the bar, especially not looking old, I had quit drinking and I had kids, and it seemed like every year went by, another old friend had died. I still prefer being around my kids to any club I've ever been in, and I miss my friends whose choices or diseases didn't let them see another kind of life. I didn't grow up, but I changed. But, I actually had found your story inspiring, and it was something I identified with. I eventually leaned towards academic work, then studied mass media law at the UW, and gravitated to the highest paying day jobs I could find just so I could afford to buy a house in the same neighborhood I grew up in. Okay, enough of the bona fides.

    I don't think this is an argument about who has what on the line, or what kind of perspective each of us bring, mainly because I doubt our voices will influence any final legislation. Its sad, but we dont get to speak to power when you have two multi-billion dollar industries arguing with each other. Anytime legislation is passed on the level this one would be, there are going to be unintended consequences. That has a macro-level effect. So, the macro's get to decide. And, while I did read up on things, I doubt the site for HR3261 had 4 million hits that day. You are most certainly correct about that.

    Now, above, you mention the holes in the legislation. After the UW, I worked for the House Democratic caucus. We would work with any number of constituents on drafting legislation. Any time you deal with billion dollar industries, they come to you with the legislation already written, and not a single word is included or excluded out of happenstance. Even when they write stupid, fucked up laws, its because they wanted a stupid fucked up law they could disavow later. In the case of SOPA and PIPA, these 'holes' are intended by the firms that drafted them to allow one party or another in a copyright claim a greater level of control over another. Law itself is an adversarial system, but what these bills often end up is in the thousands of pages. Especially in tech cases because, what you are doing with a law like PIPA, is trying to craft a law that suits a business model which runs at odds to the very technology platform that the business runs on. [for instance, consider if the law simply says reproducing a copyrighted file is infringement, and you are on a site, and a copyrighted image is downloaded, which is actually reproduction, onto your temp int folder in Windows. now, try and write legislation that makes that instance legal, since its an unintentional act that happens because you browsed a web page, versus actually clicking on and downloading a higher resolution image. Actually sorting that out could take hundreds of pages of legalese, and keep people in houses in Ballard, so, in a way, it creates jobs :)

    As you can imagine, some of us are fans of yours, support you, have never downloaded illegal music, never will, yet disagree with copyright law itself. We also disagree with the assessment that the massive protest was the result of people blindly following each other off a cliff. Some of are very familiar not only with this legislation, but the history of copyright.

    I would just throw this out there: a- I think copyright law itself has been abused by the large corporations, their banks and shareholders and hedge funds that own them. I don't think you should be allowed to hold a copyright as long as is currently allowed by law. I think our culture, the music, the film, the plays, the arts, are all healthier the sooner these privately held rights to creative works pass into the public domain. I think the greater level of currency that this type of information can contribute to the public domain makes for a healthier and more creative society.
    b- I don't think any large media company is capable, by its very nature, of allowing or seeing how a free exchange of their products increases the overall value of the product. In fact, other than a good will accounting at time of future sale, its almost impossible to look at that value. But, our society makes a great deal of investment in infrastructure that supports the growth in value of these products. For instance, lets say Guns and Roses reunites for the RaR HOF, and that is simulcast on the internet for a mere $10. That is some coin coming your way. But it can happen because we as a society via our government and public research universities have supported and grown a system that reaches into nearly every home in the US. In every way, those who do commerce on the internet and the public investment in the internet are interrelated. The public interest in the products you create, then, is a valid interest. We have invested in you, your business, and, in addition to taxes, at some point we ask that you contribute that work itself to the public body of works. In short that it become a very part of the American culture from which the music initially grew. The very name I adopted for these responses is Rocinante, the name of Don Quixote's horse. A 'nag' whose disagree-ability highlights some sort of truth. But, what's more important, that work is considered one of the touchstones, lodestones, pre-eminent works in human history. It is to Spanish what Shakespeare is to English. It is known today because it was pirated so much after initial publication, which was very minimal. Its an example how people demanded access to content because it contributed to their lives in some deep and meaningful way. That is part of the conversation that is lost here: There's all this demand this system cant meet. That's as much of an issue as anything. The system has shown it has a much greater capacity to distribute product, yet there is this prohibition on the manner in which the distribution occurs. Instead of solving that problem, the approach has been to try and put this 'evil' back in Pandora's Box. (Evil is what was in the box in the myth, not saying music or whatever is evil)
    c- You have a right to make money. You have the right to make a lot of money. As much as people want to give you. People were complaining about $50 concert tickets, well, folks, if you want to live in a community where everyone has a good paying job, then shit costs more. Nobody is ever ripping anyone else off, we make exchanges based on our choices. But, you have the right to make money. The only question is, how much, how long? That's a valid thing to disagree about.
    d- I think we need to get ahold of ourselves about the music industry. Its always been changins. The music industry that you write of above only existed for about 35 years. I'm thinking about 1970 or so, just post all the 60s music festivals and the start of the way Led Zeppelin and Peter Grant and Apple and Allen Klein basically altered the way bands handled their business. Not to mention the Stones and the introduction of sponsored tours. But that's really big level stuff. The important part is that since 1915, the music business, the media business has always undergone serious disruptions. The introduction of records was feared by a lot of music groups because they were afraid their tunes would get ripped off. And, its always been corporate, since RCA was formed by ATT, GE, Westinghouse, and the United Fruit Company to control radio patents. (thats the same UFC that funded US interventions in Central America). In the 70s and 80s, I don't know how many times people were accosted a show for having a recording device, maybe 238. For anyone not old enough, the bootlegging business was approached by the record companies with the same zeal downloading is today. Of course, downloading has an impact that dwarf's bootlegging. And, as we know now, bootlegging really was a fan based activity and often did not impact overall sales too much. But, go to NYC, and you can walk up the street and still buy bootlegged stuff. Nonetheless, this point is that disruption is a natural occurrence in the media industry. That is to be expected, because its a business based on technology, which is by ITS nature, in constant flux. But, that creates the conundrum: Media businesses need a constant influx of new material, they need to be able to make money off of that material to reinvest and create more material, that material then needs to pass into the public domain, if anything to create room for more privately held material, as well as to complete the implied social agreement of the copyright grant.

    So, the media is in transition, I think you are right, in five years, there will be no company that looks like a record company once looked in 5 years. But just like Chaplin Studios became A and M records and is now Muppet Labs, that space will be occupied by something. I sincerely hope that its a model that provides support to artists, while at the same time giving the freedom to engage with content that music fans clearly want. I mean, if you're creating a fan made video you are a fan. You are engaged. That's loyalty no marketing campaign can buy. Its also copyright infringement. Unless the artists have a way to allow for it while still making a living.

    e- There is no point e.
    f- relative to point d, this is now the saddest of all keys.
    g- I think its wrong to throw dwarves, but I like the Dwarves, however, only in small doses.
    h- I am totally onto another tangent now: typing random sentences in a list.

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