I mean, besides the AAs of the world (the RIAA, the MPAA)? Granted, the backlash took a little longer to get than some of us would have liked, but it’s here now, and even though the hearings for SOPA have turned into one big, misguided circle jerk for the entertainment industry, with industry reps in the middle, basking in the glow of congressional support, the push-back is finally here.
The question is, was the wool removed from the public’s eye with enough time to act against SOPA, or should we simply be resigned to the fate that the United State government is in a position, provided SOPA survives becoming an actual law, to wield a level of control over the content of the Internet, one it was never intended to have, all to pacify the entertainment industry. SOPA’s existence really doesn’t go beyond that. If the entertainment behemoths pulled their support for SOPA and embraced the concept of file sharing with open arms, or, conversely, agreed with tech industry in the belief the bill gives too much power to those that wield it, the act would fall apart like a house of cards.
Here’s something very telling about SOPA and its sponsors. Recently, Lamar Smith, one of the Republican representatives from the state of Texas, and one of SOPA’s most visible sponsors, was quoted as saying, “I’m not a technical expert on this,” but yet, there’s Smith, foolishly attempting to take Google’s representative to task with an incredibly ignorant offering that says:
…one of the companies represented here today has sought to obstruct the Committee’s consideration of bipartisan legislation. Perhaps this should come as no surprise given that Google just settled a federal criminal investigation into the company’s active promotion of rogue websites that pushed illegal prescription and counterfeit drugs on American consumers.
Smith’s ignorance would be laughable if it wasn’t so potentially harmful to the Internet’s existence, but yet, there he is, trying his hardest to regulate the content of the Internet.
Smith, while being wholly ignorant of how Google operates its search engine index, also apparently ignores the wishes of the American people as well. In an ongoing study conducted by The American Assembly project at Columbia University, some of their early findings have been made available, and because of them, it’s pretty clear the events surrounding SOPA do not reflect the attitudes of the people it’s designed to govern.
Some highlights are upcoming, but I urge you to read the incredibly revealing study and the initial findings. It’s pretty clear the times and the attitudes of the people have changed:
- “Piracy” is common. Roughly 46% of American adults have bought pirated DVDs, copied files or discs from friends or family, or downloaded music, TV shows or movies for free.* These practices correlate strongly with youth and moderately with higher incomes
- Only 1% of Americans are heavy pirates of TV/movie content (i.e. possess more than 100 movies or TV
shows and copied or downloaded most or all of them)
- Console-based video game piracy on any scale is rare. 48% of households surveyed owned game consoles (Xbox, Playstation). Of these, roughly 3% (1.5% overall) have consoles that have been modified to play pirated games. Of this 3%, 55% were modified at time of purchase and 33% by the owners. We did not inquire about PC or mobile games
Aside: So much for Sony’s reasoning for locking down the PS3… Other highlights include:
- Copyright infringement among family and friends is widely accepted. Substantial majorities of Americans say it is “reasonable” to share music files with family members (75%) and friends (56%). For movie/TV files: 70% and 54% respectively
- Only a slim majority of Americans (52%) say “people should face punishment if they download an unauthorized copy of a song or movie from a website or file-sharing service.” 34% are opposed to penalties altogether; 7% say it depends on the circumstances; 7% did not answer
- This support is limited to warnings and fines.
- Even among those who support fines, 75% support amounts under $100 for downloading a song or movie. “Less than $10” attracted 32% support; “$11 to $100” attracted 43%. This contrasts sharply with U.S. copyright law, where the statutory penalty for willful infringement runs to $150,000 per act. Fine in this range were supported by less than 1% of Americans.
As for the crux of SOPA, that is, should the government and/or the entertainment industry be allowed to block online material, the respondents are pretty unanimous in their lack of support:
American Internet users (79%) have strong views about whether corporations or the government should monitor their Internet use “in order to prevent copyright infringement.” A large majority (69%) said no. 27% responded yes or sometimes. 3% did not know. Attitudes are softer when asking whether ISPs should “block access to sites that provide access to pirated songs and videos.” A 58% majority responded yes to this question, with 36% opposed. When asked if the government should block access, that majority vanishes (40% yes; 56% no).
The report also indicates that when the word in the survey was changed from “block” to “censor,” support diminished even further. Even though people were more comfortable with ISPs blocking infringing users, when the word becomes a precursor to censorship, support for ISP blocking reduces as well. According to the report, with these parameters, only 46% said yes, and 49% said no.
There’s a handy graph that helps put the study’s current findings in perspective. Click it for a larger version:
Of course, if you were to present these findings to government officials who support SOPA, or, say, representatives of the MPAA/RIAA, the response would, in all likelihood, be the equivalent to sticking one’s fingers in their ears and yelling, all in an effort to block out the unpleasant truths they’re trying to ignore.