Isn't it ironic?
Two bills designed to cut off foreign rogue websites have been defeated (SOPA and PIPA). The Recording Academy, along with the American Federation of Musicians, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Nashville Songwriters Association, Songwriters Guild of America, and every other group that represents music creators backed the bills. More than 40 legislators from both parties sponsored the bills and the Senate bill passed through committee unanimously.
But by now, you all know what happened. Tech companies used their powerful Internet megaphone to create opposition to the bills, some websites went dark and Congress was pressured to back away.
Now, there was a legitimate debate to be had. I traveled to many of our Chapters and discussed the bills with smart people of differing views. But the debate online turned into what debates online often turn into: hyperbole, misinformation, exaggeration, and outright lies.
And irony. Lots and lots of irony.
Many postmortems will be written about the SOPA saga, but I'd like to focus on the irony. So here are my "Top 5 Ironic Moments of the SOPA Debate":
Taking A Stand vs. Making A Profit
The nonprofit Wikipedia site went dark, as did many small sites and blogs. But Google, Facebook and Twitter all stayed open for business. Irony No. 5: Rather than sacrifice a day’s profits, the wealthy corporate websites were happy to send their poorer cousins to the front lines.
New Industries Are Way Cooler Than Old Industries
Tech positioned its argument as new innovators versus the old-school entertainment industries. Simultaneously, the Consumer Electronics Show was unveiling all the new gadgets … that play music, movies and video games. Irony No. 4: It's Tech versus Hollywood … while Tech builds its business on entertainment content.
A Day Of Protest. Must Be Nice To Have The Right
Wikipedia — a site that claims to be a neutral conduit of information — leads the blackout and destroys their aura of neutrality. Ironic in itself, but what if music went dark for a day? I'm guessing more people need to hear Adele than look up her birthdate. If music went dark, it would have changed the narrative, but there is no mechanism for it to do so. Irony No. 3: Websites could shut down for a day, but the music licensing systems do not allow artists and songwriters to withhold their work for a day.
Trust Us, We're Google.
According to The Register's Andrew Orlowski, last year, "Google made 11 million sites disappear on a whim." They may have had good reason (control spam, malware, etc.). But the idea that the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. court system should not have the same authority as Google leads to … Irony No. 2: Google wants corporate authority to restrict access to websites, but wants to deny law enforcement the authority to restrict websites dedicated to theft.
Sweet Land Of Liberty (You Know, China … Russia …)
Although SOPA only addressed foreign websites, the tech industry spread false rumors that the law could restrict the free speech of U.S. bloggers and even shut down Facebook. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement currently has the authority to restrict access to domestic sites dedicated to infringement and has not overstepped that authority. Which leads to Irony No. 1: The U.S. government can be trusted with restricting access to domestic pirate sites, but if they restrict a foreign pirate site, they'll be accused of curtailing free speech.
So much irony, but still no path to controlling foreign theft of music makers' work. Hopefully Congress will find a way to re-craft the bills that can get past tech's firewall. If not, we might need Alanis to revise one lyric of "Ironic" to "A free ride … when nobody's paid."