There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future. Some folks will always predict doom and gloom, but we say, "The Sky Is Rising!" (loud and proud -- and again with sequel The Sky Is Rising 2). The advent of digital information has created an enormous wealth of data, and the amount of this digital awesomeness seems to be growing all the time. Here are just a few more examples of the amazing abundance of media that surrounds us.
Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.
While it may seem like a shot across the bow of videogames to score some cheap political points, what Obama actually has in mind is a bit more subtle. (Make no mistake, though: this subject wouldn't have been broached if not for the Newtown shooting.)
Conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, including links between video games, media images, and violence: The President is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and scientific agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. It is based on legal analysis that concludes such research is not prohibited by any appropriations language. The CDC will start immediately by assessing existing strategies for preventing gun violence and identifying the most pressing research questions, with the greatest potential public health impact. And the Administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence.
Two things worth noting in this paragraph:
The "Presidential Memorandum" lifts a moratorium on this sort of research by the CDC, something that has been in place for over 15 years. Kyle Orland at Ars Technica explains:
[T]he federal Centers for Disease Control have been prohibited from funding studies that "advocate or promote gun control" since 1996, when Congress cut the $2.6 million the organization had been using to fund gun injury research through its Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Further moves since then have prevented the CDC from even receiving federal crime data for gun research, and prohibited the National Institute of Health from doing gun violence research as well.
And why was this research prohibited? Depending on who you ask, it's either because the NRA didn't like guns being tied to injuries and death (Orland calls it a "chilling effect" brought on by Arthur Kellerman's study) or the study itself was severely flawed and skewed to fit the pre-existing bias of the director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, which operated under the CDC's direction.
Secondly, the wording directs the CDC to focus on areas with the "greatest potential public health impact." The administration may namecheck current hot buttons like videogames and violent media, but as it's worded, the CDC has no instruction to start its work by assessing these areas. As Orland states, this one sentence is likely nothing more than a brief concession to the current political climate:
Making a brief mention of video game studies as a part of a $10 million funding request is a good way to pay lip service to these political concerns on both the left and the right without really making it a priority. If studying video game and media violence were actually a major focus of the president's gun control agenda, it would have a much more prominent place in both his remarks and his official funding requests. Instead, the real money the president is asking from Congress will go to more important things: $20 million for the National Violent Death Reporting System, $14 million for police and security training, $150 million for in-school mental health counselors, $30 million to develop school emergency management plans, and so on.
Overall, putting the CDC in charge is probably (in the parlance of government works) the "least worst" way to handle this. The CDC will have access to more mental health-related data than other existing entities, a factor that definitely needs to be considered. (But this factor also presents its own problems: it's entirely too easy to write off mass murderers as mentally defective. The idea of taking someone's life, much less multiple lives, is so repulsive to "normal" human beings that the kneejerk reaction is to blame it on mental illness. It's safe to say that normal people would never commit mass murder, but it's way too simplistic to assume that every perpetrator is mentally defective.) It should also have access to demographic and other environmental factors, which should give it a more rounded picture than the limited sample sizes and variables of smaller studies and surveys.
Another factor that makes the CDC a preferable choice is the fact that it's an existing agency. Turning this task over to a special committee would result in a room filled to capacity with appointees and their predispositions. (The argument can also be made that the CDC carries its own predispositions, but expecting a government directive, especially an executive order, to conjure up a completely impartial study is to show a level of faith the government simply doesn't deserve.)
Now, the downside.
Any conclusions the CDC comes to will be immediately suspect. No matter what it finds, the conclusions will be disputed. The presence or absence of a link between violent media and gun violence will only exacerbate the divide between both sides of the debate. To date, no link has been conclusively proven. This study's outcome will likely be more of the same. It's nearly impossible isolate people and "violent media" from the other factors that affect the equation. The CDC should be able to incorporate its existing knowledge in regards to risk factors, but the answers it comes up with will fail to satisfy everyone. Ultimately, it will change nothing, but it will have the power to inform government policy going forward and, depending on the political climate, it's likely that gossamer-thin correlation will be enough to justify legislation.
Then there's the tangled issue of gun control policy, something the CDC has waded into in the past. Again, any conclusions drawn will be contrasted against its history with the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and its biased approach to the study of gun violence. (Particularly troublesome is a 1987 CDC report, in which the director of the NCIPC thought enough evidence existed to "confiscate all firearms from the general population" in order to prevent 8,600 homicides a year.) The administration has done a disservice to both groups (video game fans, gun owners) by making this study inseparable from a larger gun control proposal.
The best case scenario, like so much in government, is that nothing happens. The studies are proposed, the climate shifts and, like so much before it, it's discarded in favor of What's Ailing the Nation Now. While it would be interesting to see the CDC perform an in-depth study (especially if the data collected is made available to the public), the chance of a negative outcome (in terms of misguided legislation, etc.) is way too high.
On the whole, though, it is refreshing to see videogames treated as part of the media, rather than a wholly distinct scapegoat capable of destroying society on its own. Unfortunately, even with its rather brief appearance in the administration's set of proposals, it appears the government still wants to control media (as opposed to "the media") and this single paragraph could help rationalize unconstitutional measures.
In some manner, it appears that the NRA's response is that the 2nd Amendment is more important than other amendments in the Constitution. Blaming music and movies is an attack on the 1st Amendment, which allows for freedom of expression, while turning our schools into police states, patrolled by armed guards, at least toes the line on the 4th Amendment. The database of mentally ill patients also raises significant privacy issues. No matter what you think of various gun control proposals, it seems rather ridiculous to take a strong Constitutional stand as the basis for your argument... only to make a complete mockery of other amendments.
As the WCIT (World Conference on International Telecommunications) gets under way in Dubai, the ITU is making its play to regulate the internet, potentially to aid authoritarian governments in censoring or limiting the internet, or to divert money from innovative internet companies to stagnant state telcos out of a claim of "fairness." There's obviously been a lot of talk about it, and the ITU keeps claiming that it's just a neutral body to facilitate discussions, even as increasing evidence suggests it's urging many of the crazier proposals forward itself.
And now it's come out that ITU officials recently held a "secret" meeting to figure out how they were going to avoid getting SOPA'd, having the world rise up in protest as it tries to implement its internet regulatory regime. Following some bizarre and paranoid fantasy about how the anti-ITU, anti-WCIT efforts are really just because an unnamed "lobbying group" didn't like one proposal (the one mentioned above about diverting money from internet companies to telcos), the meeting got down to business: how could they use social media to prevent SOPA- or ACTA-like uprisings from the public:
In response to the anti-WCIT “campaign,” according to the September retreat’s preparatory materials, the ITU reluctantly launched a “counter-campaign,” which the agency believes “has been fairly successful outside the US and somewhat successful even in the US,” where “some of the statements made to denigrate ITU and WCIT are so extreme that they were easy to challenge and rebut.”
Going forward, the ITU focused at its meeting on the possibility of an “intensive anti-ratification campaign in OECD countries, based on the so-called lack of openness of the WCIT process, resulting in a significant number of countries refusing to ratify the new ITRs.” The ITU calls this possibility “the so-called ACTA scenario,” referring to sometimes violent protests against the secret ACTA treaty that took place this year.
To develop the next phase of its “counter-campaign,” the ITU hosted speakers from leading PR and advertising agencies to advise them on the use of social media. For example, Matthias Lufkens, Head of Digital Strategy for global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, gave a presentation on how his agency helped the World Economic Forum leverage tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr to fend off “occupy”-style protests that occurred both physically in Davos and on the Internet.
“There is a risk that [the ACTA scenario] will happen, but our communication campaign can mitigate this,” the internal document says.
Of course, the campaign doesn't really appear to be going that well -- especially since so much of it revolves around "deflect[ing] media questions from secrecy, taxes and censorship" to the blandly empty (and absolutely silly) statement that "the revised ITRs have the exciting potential to pave the way for a broadband revolution in the 21st century." I'm sure that sounds catchy on a tweet. The problem, of course, is that folks on the internet don't tend to believe that kind of bureaucrat-speak when they know it's not true. As Downes notes:
Here’s the unvarnished truth, which no PR agency can help the agency talk, tweet, or prevaricate their way around: The commercial Internet emerged and matured entirely since the treaty was last reviewed. It developed in spite of the ITRs, not because of them.
There is a familiar pattern here of ambitious regulators who have no expertise and little experience with the Internet proclaiming themselves its benevolent dictators, only to find the peasants revolting before the coup has even started.
The ITU is no different than the sponsors of ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, and other attempts at regulating the Internet, its content, or its users by governments large and small. Like the media lobbyists who continue to see the successful fight to kill SOPA and PIPA as a proxy war waged solely by Google and other Internet companies, the ITU simply can’t accept the reality that Internet users have become their own best advocates.
Once again, these bureaucrats really have no clue what they're doing.
Kevin Gosztola has been providing detailed updates on the latest Bradley Manning hearings, focused mainly on the conditions associated with the treatment of Manning after his arrest, and whether or not it amounted to "unlawful pretrial punishment" or involved reasonable precautions by the military. Specifically, as we had discussed, Manning was held in conditions that amounted to torture under key definitions of torture -- held in "intensive solitary confinement" in total isolation, not allowed to have a pillow or sheets for his bed. Over 250 legal experts condemned his treatment and the State Department's spokesperson even lost his job for saying publicly that Manning was being mistreated, and that it wasn't productive.
The legal issue is that if this treatment was seen as punitive then that's a problem. People can be held pre-trial, but they're not supposed to be "punished" as part of the process. The Defense Department has been trying to claim that the treatment of Manning had to do with fears that he would harm himself, and the latest hearings were to figure out which version of the story is really accurate. The details look pretty damning for the Defense Department. For example, it appears that officials were more concerned about the media, not about Manning's condition:
Going through emails, it came out that Lt. Gen. George Flynn, superior officer, was concerned with media and not Bradley Manning’s conditions. For example, when David House and Firedoglake editor-in-chief Jane Hamsher were harassed at the gate of Quantico, Flynn was in on this incident. He was up on what the public affairs planned to say to any questions from media on the incident. But, he was not up on weekly updates coming from officers in the brig.
Later, the same Lt. Gen. Flynn apparently got upset that the NYTimes had information on Manning's mistreatment and he hadn't been forewarned about the media situation:
Lt. Gen. Flynn was upset that he read about Manning standing outside his cell naked in the New York Times. “It would be good to have leadership have heads up on these things before they’re read in the early bird!” Lt. Col Flynn wrote in an email. The “early bird” is a military synopsis of various news stories/press releases.
And then there's the fact that the "psychologist" relied on to assess Manning's mental state... wasn't actually a psychologist but a dentist. Huh?!?
Also, a “forensic psychiatrist” that the Brig was consulting was a Dentist. She didn’t really have qualifications as a psychologist. She was a doctor on staff there and they went to her for assessments on Manning’s condition.
On top of that, evidence was presented of guards joking about taking away Manning's underwear in response to comments Manning had made. It certainly raises significant questions about why they were treating Manning this way and if it actually had anything to do with his own safety... or if they just liked taunting him.
One Quantico Brig officer (female) sent email where he joked about the removal of Manning’s underwear after comments he made on March 2, 2011. Here’s a version the press pool currently believes we heard read in court:
“As Dr. Seuss would say I can wear them in a box, I can wear them with a fox, I can wear them with socks. I can wear them in the day so I say. I can’t wear them at night. My comments gave the staff a fright.”
It is Green Eggs & Ham.
Coombs asked Choike if he believed joking about the underwear was something that an officer should have done. Choike then said something to the effect that he realized this could be brought up by Manning with his attorney and it might become “another media issue.”
Even if you think Manning violated the law, it seems pretty damning to see him treated this way pre-trial.
Separately, prior to the discussion about Manning's conditions, the government officially opposed Manning's attempt to plead guilty to certain lesser charges (as discussed earlier) in the hopes of speeding up the trial and getting potential leniency on some of the more serious charges. This issue more or less got tabled for procedural reasons, as Manning is still arguing that the government failed to provide a speedy trial and the court notes that if it excepts the plea, that would also waive the speedy trial issue. So, the court will handle the issue of whether or not the government failed to offer a speedy trial before taking on the plea issue.
It seems extraordinary that in the area of copyright it is only recently that people have started to consider the evidence before formulating policy. Even now, there is still resistance to this idea in some quarters. Elsewhere, though, there is a growing recognition that policy-makers must have access to the data they need when considering how to achieve given goals.
to provide EU policies with independent, evidence-based scientific and technical support throughout the whole policy cycle.
The bulk of the report is filled with detailed tables of figures and charts attempting to show what's been happening over the last few years in the media industries. Here's a summary of what the Joint Research Centre hopes producing these will achieve:
This study aims first of all to gain a better understanding of the dynamics in the Media and Content Industries (MCI) and to produce an assessment of the current and future competitiveness of the European MCI sector. The study maps the economic value and growth potential of this sector, driven by increasing awareness of the economic value of the sector. The sector itself has grown considerably over the past decades, but it also contributes to the growth of the Information Society. It provides the content which, in digital form, requires high speed broadband networks and thus stimulates the roll-out of broadband networks. The MCI is also an important part of the creative industries, which stimulate a flourishing creative climate thereby attracting other highly skilled economic activities, leading to vibrant urban economies (Florida, 2002; UNCTAD, 2008; European Commission, 2010a).
Secondly, this study aims to gain insights into the fundamental changes in this sector, which have taken place over the past two decades as a result of the introduction of ICT in different parts of the production and distribution process. Some of these technological innovations were so fundamental that they caused changes in the production chain, in the roles and positions in the value chain, in business models and in market structures. In other words, they have led to a transformation of the whole ecosystem.
Significantly, much of the first half of the report is given over to exploring why it is so hard to draw up detailed figures on the media and content industries. Part of the problem is that such official statistics as are available -- and they are relatively limited -- follow older industry categories that don't really fit any more. Even relatively new ones are problematic:
The new OECD definition intends to give a better reflection of the current MCI sector structure. However, the underlying categorization of the Media and Content Industries can not account for one of the most apparent trends in the Media and Content Industries, i.e. its increasing interconnectedness and convergence with ICT (telecom, computer and software industries). Distribution is now separated from MCI and included in ICT category, but increasingly distribution companies are involved in acquisition of content and content rights, packaging and marketing of content, sometimes also adding added value by producing additional services (EPG, communication services etc.) The same is true for new entrants such as major ICT firms like Google, Apple, YouTube, which are also increasingly involved in not just dissemination of content but also in many content related activities.
It is this intermingling of media, content, computers and communications in the digital sphere that makes it so hard to establish what is really happening. For example, the decline bemoaned by many in the traditional copyright industries is in many ways simply a reflection of the fact that new forms of creation and distribution are starting to replace the established ones, but capturing that in official statistics is hard.
One way around that is to turn to other sources:
In order to complement the data from official statistics, the study includes 'unofficial' statistics on developments in MCI. With the help of this data, it provides insight into the transformations taking place in MCI that are not immediately apparent in the official statistics. The main topics for which statistical evidence has been collected are the transformations resulting from the impact of ICT, or more specifically the impact of the internet and digitalisation on the production and distribution of media and content. This concerns especially the shift from offline (physical) to online digital distribution of content, and the impact of piracy, P2P networks and user-generated content in particular sub-sectors.
However, in this context the report makes an important point:
From investigating data found by screening major sources from industry associations, consultancies and research institutes specialised in media and content industries, an important conclusion is that it is impossible to directly compare or complement official statistics with unofficial statistics
One source of unofficial statistics is, of course, industry bodies. The report quotes some of their figures in a discussion of piracy:
The industry regards piracy as a serious threat for their business. Table 22 shows estimates by the film industry in 2005 for the losses incurred due to piracy. For the music industry, IFPI (2010) states that the music industry experienced a decline in sales of 30% from 2004 to 2009, which it mainly attributes to file sharing.
It's good to see that those figures aren't accepted uncritically, simply reported. Even more importantly, rather than accept the naïve view that unauthorized file sharing is necessarily harmful to the copyright industries, the report quotes one of the few studies available that looks at what the evidence says:
Although it is difficult to understand the true impact of illegal file sharing on the industry, it is clear that every file downloaded does not result automatically in one less CD or DVD sold. TNO conducted a statistical analysis and calculated the effect of illegal file sharing on the music industry for the Dutch market through a welfare-theoretical approach. They calculated the substitution ratio for the Dutch music industry, and estimated a substitution ratio of at most 5-7%. In other words: for every 15-20 downloads one track less is sold. However, the economic implications of file sharing for the level of welfare in the Netherlands were found to be strongly positive in the short and long terms, because downloaders buy the same amount of music as non-downloaders, and more games and DVDs than non-downloaders. Moreover, downloaders go to more concerts and buy more merchandise (TNO, 2009). It should however be noted that because of the fact that this study is focused on a single country, its conclusions can not be generalized to the EU as a whole without further investigation.
This is just one study, albeit a suggestive one, of what is happening in one country. Clearly many more are needing in order to establish the real impact of unauthorized sharing on the traditional copyright industries. Let's hope the Joint Research Centre can build on its current report and contribute to the gathering of more complete evidence on this crucial topic.
Copyright maximalist operation "The Copyright Alliance," purveyors of ridiculous copyright propaganda, has really topped itself with a recent blog post. It is trying to compare Google to "pink slime." You know pink slime -- the stuff that got all sorts of attention a few months ago as being a somewhat disgusting looking output of excess beef products all mashed up together and then reused in other foodstuffs. What does one have to do with the other? Well, according to the absolute geniuses at The Copyright Alliance:
Among the reasons I believe companies like Google are so hostile not only to copyright but to other regulations, is that their revenue and aspirations are anathema to distinguishing value (prime meat) from muck (MSM). To the contrary, their business models are literally based on grinding up all content into a homogenous slurry in order to turn billions of clicks into billions of dollars. To companies like Google, torrent sites, and many aggregators, everything goes into the big, digital grinder — a John Irving novel, some bits of junk journalism, a few stupid cat videos, Lawrence of Arabia, several thousand mail-order brides, a hard-news report from Central Africa, trafficked children, an episode of Downton Abbey, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, The White Album, years of scientific research, and of course several jiggling pounds of college chicks shaking their booties at webcams. It’s all just ones and zeroes, right? It’s digital pink slime.
I've now read this paragraph a dozen times. And my only conclusion is the person who wrote it has never used Google or, perhaps, any search engine. Because it gets the story exactly, 100%, completely backwards. It's not reality. It's the opposite of reality. Up is down, black is white, day is night kind of backwards.
The whole point of any search engine is to distinguish the value from the muck. The reason Google became such a huge phenomenon when it first came out (long after people had declared the search engine wars "dead") was that Google did a much better job finding what you wanted. How does it do that? By properly finding the value and surfacing it at the top while pushing down the muck. A search engine that doesn't distinguish the value from the muck is no search engine at all. It's a random website generator.
Search engines care deeply about finding the best value. Hell, just a week or so ago, Google explained how it had made 39 changes to its search in May alone, with the goal of helping people better find value out of muck. There may be all sorts of reasons to dislike or distrust Google. The company is very big, and has lots of info on you, which raises plenty of privacy concerns. But to claim that it wants to homogenize all content and that it's against their best interest to distinguish value from muck makes zero sense. If it were true, we'd immediately see tons of other search engines and do the exact opposite: provide more value and take over the market (just like Google did a decade ago).
I'm all for discussions about copyright issues, but can we at least keep them in the realm of reality, rather than fantasyland?
The Arab Spring sparked plenty of discussion about the roles that social media, mobile devices and other technologies can play in toppling oppressive regimes. But there's another aspect to events in the Middle East that should prove enlightening to those interested in the role of media: what happens afterwards? In Libya, there is suddenly press freedom after 42 years of censorship and government control, and it has led to the appearance of countless new newspapers, websites and TV and radio stations, all working to build a journalistic landscape essentially from scratch. As an article in Global Post reveals, the result is understandably somewhat chaotic:
"We are yet to see even semi-professional reporting," said Jamal Dajani, the regional vice president for Internews, an international media development organization." TV reports are dominated by unfocused footage and "amateur standups," he says. "There are no standards on presentation. Long reportage and news packages are jumbled together like a mixed cocktail."
I find that comment interesting because it echoes some of the criticisms leveled at blogs and online media in the western world. The key difference is that while amateur journalism here has been able to draw upon the resources of traditional media as it develops, in Libya there is no such support structure:
A year ago, Libya's entire newspaper industry consisted of only six government-run papers. Television and radio were completely state-owned and international news was heavily censored. Dajani described it as a "one-man media" operation designed to promote former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his family.
The former regime's repression left little chance for most journalists to develop core skills. Even those considered professionals did not have the chance to work in any real capacity as journalists.
As Dajani put it, trained Libyan reporters have been "paralyzed" for the past four decades and in the eyes of the new generation they now have "zero credibility." The new landscape has emerged largely through the efforts of unskilled but enthusiastic amateurs.
It's too early to know what will emerge from the post-revolution chaos, but the big question is whether the press will establish its independence—which isn't guaranteed just because the government was toppled:
While government censorship has been almost nonexistent under the new system, Internews has expressed concern about "self censorship" and "public pressure" to omit information that may be deemed "against the revolution."
At the outset of the revolution, free and fair media was a major demand. Unsurprisingly, the media that emerged in the rebel territories took on the identity of the revolution, promoting those devoted to the cause.
As the new government and constitution begin to take shape, Libya's media has failed to shift from advocacy to neutrality.
I think "neutrality" is a dangerous term when it comes to the media, because too much emphasis on remaining neutral leads to sterile he-said-she-said journalism, where reporters don't feel the need to judge the veracity of opposing positions as long as they give them equal airtime. I prefer the standards of transparency, fairness and accuracy: having an opinion is okay, as long as you are upfront about it and open to changing it, and as long as you don't intentionally ignore facts that conflict with it. But this is the good thing about having an open landscape with a wide array of voices: these standards are naturally encouraged, because when one source violates them, others are quick to call them out. As Libyans' focus shifts to the upcoming election, it's likely that the self-censorship will decrease, and the fierce competition in the media will begin to improve the quality throughout.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who made approximately $23 million last year, apparently doesn't like the press picking on the salaries at big banks like his. So, he's telling them that they're the ones who are overpaid. To be fair, the context is that he's mocking reporters for focusing on the compensation ratio statistic that some have brought up in questioning how much banks pay their employees, by noting that the same ratio -- which he rightfully calls a "stupid ratio" -- doesn't necessarily look good for the newspaper industry either. Of course, most journalists just buzz right by that context and point out how ridiculous it looks for Dimon to complain about how much journalists make, coming from where he's sitting:
Dimon's salary not only dwarfs that of us media-folk; he's also making millions more than most of his employees. The average JPMorgan employee made $341,552 last year, according to Bloomberg News.
The key point, here, is really that if you're trying to convince the press to stop focusing on stories about reasonable employee pay, you probably should not then directly state that their pay is "just damned outrageous," while then defending bank employee payments by saying, "We are going to pay competitively.... We need top talent, you cannot run this business on second-rate talent." The implication that the press gets from that -- perhaps on purpose -- is that the media shouldn't pay competitively, doesn't need top talent, and can run its business on second-rate talent. Some might argue that's already the case... but it's unlikely to get those "second-rate" reporters to drop the issue...
There are many different aspects of piracy, but for simplicity sake, I want to focus on two aspects that feed into bills like SOPA and PROTECT IP: piracy as a competitive issue vs. piracy as a cultural issue. This can often be split as software piracy vs. media piracy, but not always.
She then gives a concrete example:
Imagine that you are an appliance manufacturer in the United States. You make things like toasters. You are required to abide by American laws. You must pay your employees at least a minimum wage; you must follow American safety regulations. All of this raises the overhead of your production process. In addition, you must also do things like purchase your software legally. Your designers use some CAD software, which they pay for. Your accountants use accounting software, which they pay for. Sure, you’ve cut some costs by using “free” software but, by and large, you pay a decent amount of money to software companies to use the systems that they built.
You really want to get your toasters into Wal-Mart, but time and time again, you find yourself undercut by competitors in foreign countries where the safety laws are more lax, the minimum wage laws are nonexistent, and where companies aren’t punished for stealing software. Are you grouchy? Of course you are. Needless to say, you see this as an unfair competition issue. There aren’t legal ways of bending the market to create fair competition. You can’t innovate your way out of this dilemma and so you want Congress to step in and make sure that you can compete fairly.
Well, AutoCAD, the leading CAD software, costs a few thousand dollars; the price of accounting programs for businesses varies greatly, depending on the size of the company. But the overall cost of specialized software for the toaster company needn't be more than a few tens of thousands of dollars (using open source operating systems and office suites helps minimize generic software costs.) Since you're hoping to get your toasters into Wal-Mart, out of necessity you have high-volume production runs (if you don't, then you're a boutique toaster company, and you can charge premium prices.) That means the extra cost due to software licensing per toaster will be a few cents.
Moreover, as that first paragraph quoted above makes clear, the key factor of the "unfair" competition is the radically different cost of manufacturing in countries where wages are lower, and health and environmental standards are less rigorous and hence less costly to implement. These will make far more difference to the costs than the possible use of pirated software, especially at Wal-Mart scales.
As a result, the logic behind the opening claim of this paragraph in the post seems dubious:
Combating software piracy in the supply chain is a reasonable request and part of what makes bills like PROTECT IP messy is that there’s a kernel of this issue in these bills. Bills like this are also meant to go after counterfeit products. Most folks really want to know what’s in baby formula or what’s in the medicines they purchase. Unfortunately, though, these aspects of piracy quickly gets muddled with cultural facets of piracy, particularly once the media industries have gotten involved.
The second part is absolutely spot-on, though: people rightly want to know that the medicines and foodstuffs they buy are safe. That means there is a genuine case for legislation that helps protect consumers against such health and safety dangers. But that's about combating counterfeits, not fighting digital piracy, much less software piracy. And that's the crucial distinction: not between software piracy and media piracy, but between digital piracy and analog counterfeits.
It's important not to blur that difference, as the last sentence of the above paragraph seems to do. After all, that's precisely the trick the ACTA negotiators used to bring in disproportionate punishments for digital piracy -- by confounding it with counterfeiting that endangered the public's health.