Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bad News

"The 24-hour blackout and adverse reaction from Internet users was over the right of business — notably Hollywood and the publishing and recording industries — to make a profit on its work, versus maintaining free and open access to the Internet."
"Internet's dark day: Anti-piracy bills take a beating" The Seattle Times, Wednesday, 18 January, 2012.
First, a question. Does anyone actually know someone who disputed the rights of businesses to make a profit, and claimed that was their reason for opposing SOPA and PIPA? I know of no such people. I suppose that they could be out there, and there are people who oppose profit-making businesses, but if it took SOPA and PIPA to get them motivated, I have news for them: the rules that allow for businesses to make a profit on their work were enacted a long time ago. That ship sailed without them.

For myself, if I had to pick two reasons why most web denizens were upset by SOPA and PIPA, and the reasons for Wednesday's protest, they would be these, the fact that the laws have the fingerprints of MPAA and RIAA lobbying efforts all over them and the lack of due process protections for the accused. (If I'm wrong on that, correct me, please.) Although I'm sure there were many other reasons, these two jump out at me, given what I've been reading online. The other reasons that the article sites for opposition ("Opponents claim the measures would stifle innovation, limit service and impel companies to monitor users.") are also true, but those are more corporate, rather than public, objections.

In portraying the anti-SOPA/PIPA protest as basically being one of Communists for a Free Internet®, the Seattle Times article violates what I've come to feel is the first rule of reporting - presenting factual information in a way that educates an audience that might be ignorant of what's actually happening. After all, if everyone already knows everything there is to know about a topic, why bother reporting on it? And if you're not going to get the facts straight, what has been gained? Any poor sod who gets into a discussion over Congress' efforts to deal with issues of media piracy and intellectual property theft and trots out the line that he read in the Times is going to be treated as at best an idiot and a worst a troll or corporate shill. When, in this case, their real crime is taking an unsourced statement (the article seems to shy away from actually asking incensed internet users why they were up in arms) and taking it as a fact.

Not being perfect myself, I don't expect perfection. But this is more than a simple error; correctly or not, it smacks of an agenda being promoted. And as much as I'm a proponent of never relying on single sources of information, when news outlets appear to be partial, they tar an entire profession. That's too high a price to pay for not bothering to get the facts. (And don't get me started about the title...)


JohnMcG said...

I opposed SOPA, but I thought it was interesting that this inspired such a strong reaction whereas other things that would seem to be greater injustices (e.g. indefinite detention, drone killings) don't.

One reason might be that the act and its opposition were bi-partisan -- neither political party had co-opted either the bill or the opposition to it (though it appears the GOP may have recognized the opening here). Thus, one could support SOPA without alienating others and absorbing a social cost.

I'm starting to think most political activism is about social signaling rather than changing policy. In this case, by opposing SOPA, one could show oneself to being a freedom-loving person who "gets" technology, and not appear to be a poor team player on one's political side.

In short, as things stand right now, I can only muster two cheers for the anti-SOPA movement.

Aaron said...

Well, in this case, I felt that for many people, SOPA/PIPA was more personal. Indefinite detentions and drone killings, while abhorrent to the stereotypical liberal, are also things that happen mostly to other people.

For me it's the same with Occupy Wall Street. When it was just poor and minority kids who faced dim prospects, no one cared. When middle-class white kids found themselves in the same boat, suddenly its marching in the streets time.