It started out to be about copyright infringement. But it ended quickly, when the old guard caved to the pervasive pressure from the new.
I was lamenting Wikipedia going dark, but was especially concerned about what the challenges in SOPA and PIPA might mean. Before I had the chance to really read the links to news stories I’d saved on them from the day before, it was all over.
When the powerful world of old media mobilized to win passage of an online antipiracy bill, it marshaled the reliable giants of K Street — the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Recording Industry Association of America and, of course, the motion picture lobby, with its new chairman, former Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and an insider’s insider.
Yet on Wednesday this formidable old guard was forced to make way for the new as Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to the legislation through Internet blackouts and cascading criticism, sending an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media issues: Don’t mess with the Internet.
As a result, the legislative battle over two once-obscure bills to combat the piracy of American movies, music, books and writing on the World Wide Web may prove to be a turning point for the way business is done in Washington. It represented a moment when the new economy rose up against the old.
This is amazing.
Legislation that just weeks ago had overwhelming bipartisan support and had provoked little scrutiny generated a grass-roots coalition on the left and the right. Wikipedia made its English-language content unavailable, replaced with a warning: “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” Visitors to Reddit found the site offline in protest. Google’s home page was scarred by a black swatch that covered the search engine’s label.
Phone calls and e-mail messages poured in to Congressional offices against the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect I.P. Act in the Senate. One by one, prominent backers of the bills dropped off.
But how to interpret that depended on who was interpreting it.
“A lot of people are pitching this as Hollywood versus Google. It’s so much more than that,” said Maura Corbett, spokeswoman for NetCoalition, which represents Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay and other Web companies. “I would love to say we’re so fabulous, we’re just that good, but we’re not. The Internet responded the way only the Internet could.”
For the more traditional media industry, the moment was menacing. Supporters of the legislation accused the Web companies of willfully lying about the legislation’s flaws, stirring fear to protect ill-gotten profits from illegal Web sites.
Mr. Dodd said Internet companies might well change Washington, but not necessarily for the better with their ability to spread their message globally, without regulation or fact-checking.
“It’s a new day,” he added. “Brace yourselves.”
Citing two longtime liberal champions of the First Amendment, Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Mr. Dodd fumed, “No one can seriously believe Pat Leahy and John Conyers can be backing legislation to block free speech or break the Internet.”
But the takeaway lesson here is in this Reuters piece.
The messaging industry never had control of the message.
The tech guys found a simple, shareable idea — the Stop Online Piracy Act is Censorship — made it viral, and made it stick.
That’s it. That’s the key now to the power of ideas and influence.
Hollywood had Chris Dodd and a press release. Silicon Valley had Facebook.
It shouldacoulda been a fair fight. But it wasn’t.
It seems that Hollywood still does not realize that it is in the information age. Knowledge moves in real time, and events move accordingly. The medium is the message in a fight like this.
Five days ago, almost nobody knew or cared about SOPA. But with lightning speed, the leviathans of the Internet, including Google and Facebook and Wikipedia, managed to brand this battle as Bad and mobilize millions of followers.
This is a big news story, a head-turner, though it shouldn’t have been.
By Wednesday morning as Wikipedia went dark, the SOPA is Censorship message was on the cover and home page of every news outlet around the country. By midday, four senators and one member of Congress had backed off the legislation.
What was Hollywood doing?…
Why didn’t Hollywood grab the tools of the Internet to explain that when artists get ripped off, everybody loses?
Why didn’t anyone call Will Ferrell and Adam McKay to post a hilarious, viral video that would make the point?
And where was the Creative Coalition when you needed it?…
Hollywood showed today that it is completely clueless in leveraging the tools of the 21st Century.
It’s a turning point in history. Wiki it tomorrow.