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January 29, 2012

Why Republicans (Finally) Opposed SOPA and PIPA

Originally House bill SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and Senate bill PIPA (Protect IP Act) were bipartisan bad policy. The Senate version was reported unanimously from The Judiciary Committee and was supported not only by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) but also by the Senior Republican on the committee, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), These bills, written largely by Hollywood lobbyists, would have done great harm to Internet-enhanced freedom both in the United States and around the world. They were a massive over-reaction to the real (although not well quantified) problems of content piracy and counterfeit goods on the Internet. Oh yeah, they also helped protect Hollywood from "new media", legitimate or otherwise.

Internet denizens used the net and social media to fight back…and companies like Google and Facebook lobbied in more traditional ways as well. Wikipedia went dark for a day in protest exciting a rebuke from former Sen. Chris Dodd – yeah, the guy who received special treatment from the mortgage companies he defended in Congress, who is now the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America:

"It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services.

"It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today, It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests."

Wikipedia, of course, is a free service; it's supported by donations. But Dodd thinks it is inappropriate for it to withhold service for a day to make a point. Of course, we all know what happens if a content provider can't reach agreement with a cable service - blackout. But that's OK; it's just about the money. But I digress.

By and large the first politicians to desert SOPA and PIPA were Republicans. This surprised many of my more liberal friends since, at heart, this is a civil liberties issue and they think of Democrats as being more committed to civil liberties. Here's Dan Gillmor:

"Two more Republican senators have withdrawn support for Internet censorship today, adding to a growing unease in Congress over what lawmakers had been poised to do with SOPA/PIPA. But the Democrats, for the most part, are still firmly in support of this pernicious legislation.

"For example, both California senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, are co-sponsors of PIPA. They've taken Hollywood's side against Silicon Valley and the great majority of their constituents -- choosing to help an industry that holds back progress over one that creates it…

"I lived in Vermont for many years, and was a huge fan of Patrick Leahy, the longtime Democratic senior senator from the Green Mountain State. His ardent desire to pass PIPA is a sad reminder of how a man who once believed in civil liberties -- freedom of speech in this case -- has become a bought-and-paid-for hack on some issues, such as this one.

"Yes, many powerful GOP members -- especially Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, chief sponsor and author of SOPA -- remain firmly on the copyright cartel's side. But it won't be long, if current trends, before we'll have to call the Republicans the party of progress on this issue."

Now I do hope Republicans can become known as "the party of progress" on many issues, but I'm afraid I know the true reasons why Republicans quickly switched sides on this debate. It wasn't even the campaign contributions.

It was the content.

In domestic movies, Republican types are often the villains - evil bankers, car company executives, nuclear power plant operators, defilers of the environment. Oh, they don't always wear GOP pins, but we know who they are.

On the other hand, how many movies have you seen about evil environmental activists, labor leaders (since On The Waterfront), alternative energy developers, or community activists. These are always the good guys. And obviously Democrats.

When push came to shove, the Democrats stuck with the people who have portrayed them so nicely… and the Republicans got their revenge.

Don't worry, though; there's sure to be a sequel.

Related posts:

SOPA and PIPA are Bipartisan Bad Policy, Really Bad Policy

Reader Comments on SOPA and PIPA Internet Blocking Bills

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