SOPA, PIPA: Pause and reset

For the leading industry backers of the House and Senate’s online piracy bills, this week must have been reminiscent of a Dean Koontz horror novel. First, the White House issued a blog post expressing grave concerns with both pieces of legislation. Shortly thereafter, several popular Internet websites conducted a temporary ‘blackout’ of their respective websites in protest of the two measures; which inspired a handful of high profile legislators to rather promptly withdraw their support for the legislation. Finally, the week concluded with a not so surprising announcement that any further consideration of the legislation had been indefinitely postponed.
On closer inspection, however, the recent political setbacks provide traditional media companies, along with their congressional supporters, with a rare opportunity for a fresh start. An opportunity to craft new legislation that shifts the the traditional role of enforcement as the primary means for protecting music and movies from online infringement, in exchange for embracing a more robust system of licensing that would reduce piracy and guarantee existing and potential online customers with more timely access to entertainment content.


Anti-piracy battle reveals dysfunctional thinking

So, this last week dealt a few blows to supporters of new anti-piracy legislation. And today, websites around the world, including some biggies, have gone dark in protest of anti-piracy legislation. The guts of SOPA have been eviscerated to the point that Google and others can still profit from piracy; and many legislators and the White House show signs of bowing to public pressure as the contentious election year is upon us and Silicon Valley’s fear campaign has worked its magic -- especially on my fellow Democrats and artists. 

If SOPA and PIPA fail, or fail to pass in substantive form, it will indeed be a shame for American content creators and consumers, but the real shame is what this process reveals about the stagnation of governance in general.

Remember the healthcare circus? Instead of rational discourse about the underlying problems in a system that is clearly broken, we got diversionary scare tactics like “death panels” for the aged. My fellow Democrats and I wondered in frustration how anyone could believe such transparent fear-mongering; but now that the issue is online piracy, it is dismaying to realize that my ideological allies are just as easily sucker-punched as my ideological foes.


Congress wants to censor you

China has long been a political target for members of Congress -- whether they criticize their government’s trade policies, or the way they regulate free speech. While members of Congress are quick to point fingers at China, they themselves are considering legislation that would do just as the Chinese government does – heavily regulate free speech, and hammer entrepreneurship on the Internet.

The Internet Censorship bills (SOPA & PIPA) currently being debated in Congress could give the government the power to turn off parts of the Internet. If anyone uploads copyrighted material to a site like YouTube or on a blog, the website in question could be punished by being removed from search engine results, banned from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. 


Obama's choice: Regulator or Innovator

When President Obama walks the center aisle of the House of Representatives and takes the podium from Speaker Boehner on January 25th, he will carry with him a heavy burden. The state of our economy will obviously join him at center stage. Both the companies that create jobs and the Americans who desperately need them will be listening. So will a Congress divided to the point of debilitation.

In this extraordinary challenge lies a singular opportunity presented to every American president—the opportunity to reframe the public debate and to buoy a nation. As is tradition, presidents often look to their predecessors as they take pen to paper for these historic occasions. In recent speeches, President Obama has displayed a fondness for President Theodore Roosevelt and his notion of a “New Nationalism” in which a strong federal government ensures social justice.


Rogue sites: Compromising safety of first responders

The Internet: perhaps the greatest technological invention in our generation – one that has leveled the playing field for many countries in a global economy and dramatically changed how people in every social/economic stratum goes about their lives.
Every day, we see incredible benefits derived from this technology.  Whether in the medical field, the travel industry, our schools or in our homes, the benefits are ubiquitous.
However, as we all know, the Internet has also been used for purposes that do not always bring about positive change.
Foreign-owned, rogue websites are increasingly selling counterfeit products to U.S. consumers. The United States economy loses an estimated $58 billion annually due to copyright theft, including an estimated $3 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local government.


Online piracy bills are flawed

The music industry has a long history of telling artists to “shut up and sing.” Which is why the internet has been so important in amplifying the voices of musicians of every conceivable background. It’s also why artists should be wary when powerful entertainment conglomerates push for polices that could undermine free expression, all the while claiming to speak for creators.

Congress is currently considering a pair of well-intentioned but deeply flawed pieces of legislation that threaten to fundamentally change how the internet works. Hollywood and the labels back these bills, which are rightfully being questioned by the broader arts community, from artists and managers to writers and performers.

The bills in question — PROTECT-IP (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy ACT (SOPA) in the House — have the stated goals of making it more difficult for Americans to access websites that traffic in unauthorized U.S. intellectual property. There’s no doubt that foreign-based sites selling MP3s and movies without permission need to be dealt with. The question is how. These bills are the digital equivalent of hazardous tuna nets, except in this case it’s speech, and not dolphins, that risk being ensnared.


Avoiding the looming spectrum crisis in 2012

In early December, I wrote an article asking how the FCC can avoid the looming spectrum crisis that’s coming at us faster every time someone buys a tablet computer or downloads a video. As it turns 2012, the question is even more urgent: Now what? What does the government propose to do about spectrum?

From a tech perspective, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the proposed AT&T-T-Mobile merger was the complementarities of the two companies’ spectrum. In simple terms, it meant the merged company would have been able to efficiently use the combined spectrum to handle more calls, data, and video than is currently possible. Still, even with the most skilled network managers, only so many bits can fit onto one strand of spectrum. It’s one of the reasons smartphone connections drop, or video downloads stall, or e-mail experiences delay on your mobile phone – there’s a limit to how much space is in the airwaves.


Refusing to answer to policy reasons

A number of passionate opinion pieces have been written recently charging proponents of copyright enforcement measures with changing the way the Internet works without bothering to understand it.  It’s easy to make such charges stick in Washington when they’re made by engineers with Internet pedigrees, but they’re fundamentally unsound in light of the current state of the bills.
The Internet is not only a platform for socially beneficial innovations, it’s also a boon to those bent on anti-social, criminal pursuits. The group who commented on S. 968 (PIPA) and H.R. 3261 (SOPA) on this blog admit as much, and one of them has devoted considerable effort to ensure that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) possess the means to hide criminal web sites from their customers. This system, known as “Response Policy Zones” (RPZ,) was the inspiration for the Domain Name Service (DNS) response filtering in PIPA and SOPA.


TV station blackouts, less local TV news call into question FCC rules

As the year winds down, TV viewers across the nation are in danger of losing their local broadcast stations thanks to disputes over retransmission consent fees. These are the fees that cable and satellite companies pay to local stations to carry the stations’ signals on their systems. In recent years, as the negotiations have become increasingly combative, viewers have faced blackouts, or threatened blackouts of those local stations.


New legislation aims to increase competition and lower consumer prices

This past Friday, legislation was introduced into both the House and Senate that would reform the television industry, doing away with what many say are outdated and onerous regulations that are hampering innovation and fair competition between multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and broadcasters, in addition to curbing the ability of broadcasters to compete in a free market.

The Next Generation Television Marketplace Act would repeal the rules that mandate carriage of broadcast television channels by cable companies and repeal retransmission consent, which have allowed broadcasters to have the upper hand in negotiations for carriage with distributors. The legislation would do away also with government limits on media ownership and the one-size-fits-all compulsory copyright license.