Been meaning to get to this for a few days now, but finally had the chance now. Last week the always excellent radio program On The Media
from WNYC, I had a bit of a discussion on SOPA/PIPA (and the Megaupload shutdown). I was on the first segment discussing some of the problems with the bills
. The actual interview happened Tuesday, before the big protest, before all the politicians dropped off, and before the Megaupload takedown occurred. Otherwise I might have had a few more comments about all of that. There's probably not too much surprising in what I have to say if you're a regular reader of my SOPA/PIPA coverage.
Right after me, however, they also talked to Steve Tepp from the US Chamber of Commerce
. Tepp is the point person at the USCoC who has been more or less in charge of getting SOPA/PIPA passed. Amusingly, the segment that I recorded with OTM was recorded about half an hour after I got off stage at the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the Net
event, where I debated Tepp on some of these issues (video from that is apparently forthcoming). If I'd known they were going to have both of us on, perhaps we could have both gone into the same empty ballroom at the hotel to record the session together. Either way, Tepp, says a bunch of things that I believe are simply not true
"The legislation is, in fact, very narrowly targeted. The bill requires - for example, the Senate bill, the Protect IP Act, that the website in question be dedicated to infringing activities, that its primary design and primary use is counterfeiting or piracy."
I know that SOPA/PIPA supporters love to say this, but they do so while ignoring what the specific definitions say. The problem is how broadly worded and open to interpretation the definitions actually are. While the most recent version of SOPA trimmed back some of the more ridiculous parts of the definition found in the original SOPA, I can't think of anyone who's looked at these laws objectively and seen them to be truly narrowly tailored. That may be the intention, but the language suggests otherwise.
Thankfully OTM host Bob Garfield calls Tepp out when Tepp tries to claim that all of the people protesting against the bill are doing so because of "misinformation online." Garfield notes that Google is against the bill, and it's not like it got its information via a Google search. Tepp's response is misleading:
Well, the one provision that got all these folks excited was the requirement that after the Attorney General brings a case and after a Federal court finds that a site is dedicated to this criminal activity, that the site not be reachable from the United States, that the Internet companies would block access to that site. And that's what a lot of folks said, oh, this is -- this is a problem for the Internet, it's gonna break the Internet.
Now, that seemed to me to be quite overblown but, in any event, in the spirit of compromise, sponsors of both the Senate bill and the House bill have said, we're gonna roll that back. And yet, folks are moving the goalpost and saying, nope, still not good enough. So I don't know what the concern is. To me if I get what I ask for, I stop complaining.
That was indeed one very big problem with the bill, but it was hardly
the only problem. And Google and many others laid out a bunch of problems. The fact that DNS blocking was delayed (not removed, by the way) hardly fixed the problems. To pretend that that was all that Google wanted would be to ignore what Google has actually been saying. Either way, Tepp goes on to trot out the standard talking points:
But at the end of the day, we know that protecting American consumers and protecting American jobs from foreign criminals is in the best interest of this country. We know that members of Congress are gonna see that. And we are going to hold their feet to the fire and make sure that these criminals can't continue to get away scott free.
Except, of course, as was shown the very next day after the interview took place, existing laws already have the power for the US to take down foreign websites and arrest foreign website owners. That certainly seems to deflate much of the argument that Tepp has been making. Furthermore, it's worth noting that one of Tepp's favorite talking points -- about there being "53 billion visits" to these "foreign rogue websites," involves a study that concluded that Megaupload supplies a rather large percentage of those 53 billion visits. So, why, again, do we need this new bill?
If anything, the Megaupload takedowns are showing exactly the fears that many people worried about with SOPA. That is, even if Megaupload execs were skirting the law, the takedown has caused tons of legitimate users of Megaupload to lose out on their own content and storage, disrupted businesses, and caused many other cyberlockers to have to remove useful features, or block access to US users. These are exactly the kinds of collateral damage that people were worried about in protesting SOPA/PIPA -- and now they're realizing that the US government already has that power, and Tepp's insistence that there would be no real damage to anyone other than "foreign criminals" has been proven wrong.