I’m as happy as anyone that SOPA and PIPA seem to have crawled back into the Hollywood hidey-hole from whence they came. They threatened the free exchange of ideas on the Internet as we know it.
But make no mistake: The withdrawal of these nasty bills has very little to do with grassroots protest. Kittywampus went black for the day. My Facebook friends – including the handful of Republicans – vocally opposed SOPA/PIPA, except for a few who didn’t know what the fuss was about. All of this ballyhoo made absolutely no difference. As Jody points out in her incisive post, the contest was only ever between new tech money (such as Google) and old media. Yes, Wikipedia’s blackout made an impact, too, even as a not-for-profit entity. But the real players here were the new tech giants, able to represent themselves as the engine of American capitalist innovation. This was not a triumph of citizen activism.
What’s more, the U.S. government already has the tools it needs to punish pirates. In fact, it already blissfully disregards due process. Initial reporting on the shutdown of Megaupload – a site with sketchy leadership that appears to have openly tolerated blatant copyright violation – gave me the impression that the government had proven its case. Not so! As Glenn Greenwald notes, all it’s got at this point is allegations, not a guilty verdict:
[I]t nonetheless sends a very clear message when citizens celebrate a rare victory in denying the Government a power it seeks — the power to shut down websites without a trial — only for the Government to turn around the very next day and shut down one of the world’s largest and best-known sites. Whether intended or not, the message is unmistakable: Congratulations, citizens, on your cute little “democracy” victory in denying us the power to shut down websites without a trial: we’re now going to shut down one of your most popular websites without a trial.
Yup. With the triumph of the “unitary executive” under Bush and its consolidation and elaboration under Obama, there’s no need to wait for legislation. The rule of law is so twentieth-century!
In case you, too, were wondering why SOPA/PIPA were so evil, here’s a great explainer:
And if you need a good laugh about it, Jon Stewart comes through: