Congressional Staffers Still Can't Come To Terms With What Happened Over SOPA

from the time-to-learn dept

In a short article about a panel of Congressional staffers at the NCTA show, they basically admitted that any new "anti-piracy" legislation may be tough to pass -- with one staffer saying that the SOPA protests "poisoned the well." However, perhaps more interesting were the comments from Stephanie Moore, the "Democrat's chief counsel on the House Judiciary Committee" who apparently still refuses to believe that the public actually spoke out against the bill of their own free will:
“What happened was a misinformation campaign,” said Moore. “People were basically misled into contacting Congressmen with claims that were extraordinary. There was some genuine concern, but as for it being a genuine home grown grassroots up-from-the-streets opposition, I beg to differ on that.”
I always find this line of reasoning quite extraordinary. If you look at the history of copyright law -- especially over the past 40 years or so, it's been one "misinformation campaign" after another by RIAA and MPAA lobbyists. As we've discussed, Congress has bent over backwards to pass 15 anti-piracy laws in the last 30 years -- each one pushed by industry lobbying about how they would collapse and die without the laws being passed, and how no one will create content without such laws. They've been wrong every single time. So even if it was a misinformation campaign on the other side, at best all it would do is even out the playing field. Besides, looking at the arguments in favor of SOPA and PIPA, they were so full of blatant misinformation that I don't think any amount of misinformation against the bills would have even out the score.

But, to be clear, since I was pretty closely involved in the effort to stop these dangerous bills, I can say first hand that the claim that this was a "misinformation campaign" and that it wasn't about an "up-from-the-streets opposition" are hogwash by a person speaking from ignorance, anger or jealousy over having their own pet bill blocked. The folks working against the bill worked pretty damn hard to paint a clear and accurate picture of the bill. While there were various people who helped shepherd the process along, the protests didn't take on any life until various communities of people took them over and ran with them -- starting with the users on Tumblr and Reddit (followed closely by those on Wikipedia).

Of course, when you have any large group of internet users, not all of them are going to understand the nuances or the details. So, certainly some misinformation got into the discussion. To be fair, though, the largest bit of "misinformation" I saw on the anti-SOPA side was from people who didn't realize that (under serious public pressure), Lamar Smith issued a manager's amendment to take out the worst of the worst of SOPA (still leaving in plenty of bad). Some people mistakenly referred to the impact of the original bill in protesting later versions. This was, indeed, a mistake, but hardly a result of "misinformation." After all, those issues were in the original bill and were clearly part of what the House Judiciary Committee's staff was going for when it scribbled down the bill as the MPAA dictated it crafted the bill.

What I do know is that when misleading suggestions were made on the anti-SOPA email list, knowledgeable people quickly pushed back against those claims, noting that they were not true and should not be used. I did not see that on the other side. When the bogus claims of the entertainment industry were widely debunked, the supporters of SOPA kept on quoting them (and still do, to this day).

So, I'm sorry, but the idea that the defeat of SOPA was a misinformation campaign and not a grassroots effort is pure bunk. And if Moore wants to avoid a repeat, rather than lashing out mistakenly, and misunderstanding what happened, she should perhaps spend some time actually learning about why people were so upset by SOPA. But, of course, we know that won't happen.

Filed Under: anti-piracy, house judiciary committee, mpaa, ncta, sopa, stephanie moore


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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 22 May 2012 @ 10:08am

    Re:

    "It'll break the Internet"


    This is an oversimplified version of the argument but, as SOPA was originally, the full claim was true.

    They'll put Justin Bieber in prison


    That wasn't what was said. What was said is that if SOPA had been in place when JB was getting started, he would have been at risk of jail time. Which is true.

    SOPA will shut down YouTube


    This is an oversimplification of what was claim, much in the same vein as the "shut down the internet" business. The actual claim is that the parts of YouTube which are really valuable would be severely curtailed by SOPA, effectively destroying it by turning it into something more like television.

    You are presenting oversimplified, cartoon versions of the arguments that were made. So oversimplified that they don't actually reflect the arguments at all. A very clever and subtle strawman, but a strawman nonetheless.

    The overwhelming majority of the claim I heard were actually quite true. As the article notes, the ones that were exaggerated got there by oversight: they were true when SOPA was first revealed, but those issues had been mitigated a bit by the manager's amendment.

    No "misinformation campaign" -- as in coordinated effort at deception -- was engaged in by anybody except the pro-SOPA people, who, much like you do in your comment, continue it to this day.

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