What The SOTU “Piracy” Reference Means: Back In The USTR With Special 301 and The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

It don’t take much to excite the Twitterverse. Obama makes a passing reference to intellectual property enforcement as a sop to the MPAA by saying foreign piracy hurts trade, and my reader explodes with “Obama’s flipping on PIPA/SOPA! Betrayal!” While I have no reason to believe that the Administration is backing away from its current hardline position against PIPA/SOPA, it doesn’t have to in order to show MPAA some love (and remind them this is a long-term game with many fronts and that they depend on the federal government for enforcement — something to think about when considering whether to go through with the threats to cut off campaign contributions).

On the other hand, the fact that it does not require new policy, merely continuation of existing policy, should be just as disturbing for anyone who cares about Internet freedom and burdens on innovation. (I exclude from this concern the proposed beefed up task force for intercepting counterfeit goods until we hear more. If it focuses on stopping delivery of counterfeit goods at the border, then excellent! That is exactly the kind of enforcement we need to keep things like fake heart medicine out of the country. OTOH, if they try to make ICE-style seizures of domain names on dubious pretexts, then we got problems.)

What the President was talking about, and how to stop the People Who Brought You SOPA from getting what they want through the back door of trade agreements, below . . . .

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The PIPA Aftermath — Will Senate Democrats Drive Off A Cliff For Hollywood?

One of the more surprising developments in PIPA/SOPA politics has been the transition of Hollywood-backed legislation from a bipartisan issue with both Republican and Democratic proponents and opponents to a partisan issue. Democrats (particularly Senate Democrats) are increasingly identified as supporting the legislation and Hollywood while Republicans increasingly frame this as an exercise in big government and crony capitalism.

On the one hand, this seems remarkably unfair given that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was the first Senator to oppose PIPA and one of the chief architects of the bipartisan alliance of Senators and Representatives that kept PIPA/SOPA from advancing to the point of no return. It also ignores the role the Obama Administration played in legitimizing and galvanizing anti-PIPA/SOPA efforts (including the SOPAStrike web blackout) by strongly opposing PIPA/SOPA before the SOPAStrike, despite the naked threats of Hollywood moguls to punish the Obama campaign by cutting off any further contributions.

But too many Senate Democrats seem intent on handing Republicans a partisan victory. Whereas even Republican champions such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have acknowledged “legitimate concerns” of opponents and have “shelved” SOPA so that it can be “scrapped” and a new approach developed, high profile Senate Democrats continue to insist that they will press on against what they regard as unwarranted opposition motivated either by financial interest, disinformation, or political opportunism. Indeed, PIPA author Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) used his opening floor speech yesterday to chastise Republicans for their opposition to PIPA and his hope that, now that Republicans are back in Washington and away from all those annoying constituents protesting PIPA, they will return to the True Path of Reason — which lies in fanatically embracing any legislation that gets the MPAA seal of approval.

Which brings us to the interesting question for the legislative season: will prominent Senate Democrats chose to make this the issue on which they will drive the Democratic Party generally off a cliff by continuing to try to “sell” PIPA/SOPA, thus embracing Republican charges of a “culture of corruption” and “crony capitalism?” Or will they finally come to their senses and publicly embrace those like Wyden who insist that measures directed against online infringement must not also threaten free speech and innovation?

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An Astounding Week In PIPA/SOPA Comes To A Close

Today brought a dramatic conclusion to an extraordinary week and the culmination of months of amazing activism on PIPA/SOPA. A month ago, hardly anyone had heard of PIPA and a few more had heard of SOPA and its passage was regarded as virtually assured. Today, Harry Reid (D-NV) finally threw in the towel and called off Tuesday’s scheduled cloture vote. In the House, Lamar Smith and Marsha Blackburn, the last SOPA holdouts, threw in the towel and promised to go back to drawing board and totally rework their approach. Yes, the ill-grace with which the chief Democratic architects of PIPA in the Senate have responded, coupled with Chris Dodd’s increasing resemblance to Muppet Movie villain Tex Richman by openly threatening on Fox News to stop campaign contributions to any politician who didn’t keep pushing PIPA, make it clear PIPA’s sponsors (in both the legislative and financial sense) are as utterly unrepentant as they are in common sense. So yes, they will come back and try again and all the usual caveats that responsible people seem compelled to add to any moment of real triumph.

To which I say, feh. We can celebrate until at least Monday. No, we have hardly solved all the problems of our democracy, or even prevented the Entertainment industry from coming back to try again. However, “the work is not for you to finish, but nor are you free to set it aside.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21) Or, in the words of Matthew 6:34: “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” It would be a poor world indeed where no victory is every enough, where all we see when we look ahead are the challenges and all we see when we look behind are our defeats. So let us celebrate with a whole heart, because in a mere 3 days we accomplished something wonderful.
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Yesterday was absolutely one of those days that reminds me why I stay in public advocacy. I’m a democracy junkie. Yes, I admit it. The sight of literally millions of people remembering that they are citizens and not just consumers gets me juiced.

The good news is that by every possible metric, SOPAStrike was an enormous success. We absolutely scared the poop out of members of Congress and broke through the infamous “Washington bubble” that separates our elected officials from what is actually going on in the real world. As a result, we forced more than 20 Senators to come out publicly against PIPA/SOPA, including a number of co-sponsors withdrawing support. Fantastic!

Some of these conversions are people who hadn’t really thought much about this and are now going “I co-sponsored what? You told me this was a non-controversial bill to stop online piracy and the only opposition was Google! You totally lied to me!” But a lot of them are Senators and Representatives who would still loooove to find a way to make Hollywood happy while not getting tarred and feathered by constituents back home. The chatter on Twitter among the political set is that Pat Leahy (D-VT), who has drunk so much Hollywood Kool-Aide he pees purple, has retired to a backroom with Jon Kyl (R-AZ) to prepare a “managers amendment” that will purport to “address all the issues” (primarily the DNS blocking). The idea is to provide a fig leaf for members so that all the Senators and Representatives who caveated their opposition to PIPA/SOPA with the words “as written” can say “I had concerns, but they were addressed. Don’t worry constituents, I totally had your back and stood up to Hollywood even though I voted for the bill.”

Needless to say, the idea that you fix a lobbyist-drafted bill that is this utterly and comprehensively wrong by going into a backroom with the same lobbyists and trying to push a vote through before people can see it and debate it would be crazy anywhere but D.C. So we will need to continue pounding Senators with the clue-by-four of reason until either Reid finally calls off the cloture vote scheduled for January 24, or we win the cloture vote by keeping 41 Senators honest. My employer, Public Knowledge, has a nifty text-to-call feature you can sign up for so you can make absolutely sure you don’t forget to call your Senators on January 23.

You can find an excellent example of why pulling DNS blocking is not enough to fix PIPA/SOPA from my colleague Sherwin Siy here, and why PIPA/SOPA needs a total reset from my colleague Michael Weinberg here. Alternatively, you can watch this clip from last night’s Daily Show where Jon Stewart, as usual, manages a more in depth analysis that the supposed real news.

Stay tuned . . . .

Let’s Go Steal Us the Internet

I’m not someone who’s ever been accused of being an activist. I mean, I’ve written a manifesto or two, I suppose — who hasn’t? But I wanted to say something about the pair of bills currently on everyone’s mind, because they’re kind of insane. Here’s a good analogy to show just how insane:

SOPA and PIPA are the effective equivalent of blowing up every road, bridge, and tunnel in New York to keep people from getting to one bootleg stand in Union Square — but leaving the stand itself alone. [source]

But what can I say about these bills that smarter, more articulate people haven’t already said? I was going to try to speak from the perspective of a publisher who’s more interested in supporting talented writers and who would rather have more people read the awesome stuff those writers have written than use the vise-grip of copyright to squeeze every last penny from it, but you know what? You shouldn’t listen to me, you should listen to Tim O’Reilly.

I was going to talk about how the benefits of copyright law today skew toward the various content industries rather than individual creators, and I was going to try to do this from the point of view of a writer with a nonzero amount of tech savvy, but Cory Doctorow has way more cred than I do and has totally got this covered.

I certainly can’t do a better or more informative historical overview to these bills explaining just why they’re harmful than Wetmachine’s own Harold Feld.
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SOPABlackout And the “Internet Spring”

January 18, 2012 should be remembered as the first day of the “Internet Spring.”

I like to say that the worst thing about PIPA/SOPA is that it confirms every awful, cynical thing people say about how Washington DC works. But the best thing about PIPA/SOPA is how it can also confirm the best things we say about American democracy.

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A Not-So-Brief History of DNS Blocking — And Why It Sucks

I suppose I’m getting old. I cannot believe that the intellectual property lobbyists (or, as I affectionately refer to them, the “IP Mafia”) have once again trotted out their Holy Grail of blocking websites at the domain-name level. More mind boggling, I cannot believe that this idea gets more popular with policymakers over time, despite the fact that DNS blocking would do far more widespread damage to our overall economy and communications infrastructure today than it could have done back when the IP Mafia, the anti-pornography crusaders, and all the other would be censors of the Internet first floated it in the late 1990s. Part of the problem, of course, is that the vast majority of people (lucky for them) never had to sit through the endless iterations of this for the last fifteen years. Hence, the endless repetition by “serious” white-haired guys who just happen to work for the largest content companies who have not updated their talking points since the late 1990s and rant about how this ‘gosh-darned Internet is full of lawlessness and by-gum we gotta do something con-sarnit.’

So please forgive yet another old geezer his wander down memory lane on DNS blocking and why it builds a massive security hole into our underlying broadband infrastructure. For those playing at home, this is why the vast majority of the cybersecurity establishment in the United States is having serious heebie-jeebies about PIPA/SOPA. Sandia National Laboratory is not exactly a hotbed of piracy, and former Bush Admin Cybersecurity Czar Stewart Baker is hardly part of the “information wants to be free” crowd. They are freaked out because the proposal builds a permanent hole in our broadband infrastructure and invites every identity thief and Iranian hacker to come in and do their worst. Which means that even if we totally 100% believed the Hollywood lobbyists about the legal intent of the law, building the capacity to do DNS blocking compromises security for everyone. Because once the capacity is built in to the system, it will get hacked and exploited. So while we are sitting here in the dark because some hacker crashed our electric grid, or trying frantically to chase down every identity thief who redirected our credit card information from Amazon.com, we can console ourselves that Congress never intended for this to have any domestic impacts.

More below . . .

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Wisconsin destroys a business

Even as our Croquet software was going open source and the company winding down, I haven’t been posting much. I’ve been distracted. Here’s one reason why.

This is a tale of a government that destroyed a business. My business, along with my wife who is the speaker in the video. Ours was just one of  hundreds of mom-and-pop early-education business targeted by the state, but this is specifically about what happened to us.

Micro-Atrios Post to Say I’m Still Here and just you wait, because shit is fucked up & bullshit.

As I’ve mentioned earlier once or twice, one of my favorite bloggers is Atrios of Eschacton (you can google him up as easily as I can put in the links). He blogs about politics and economics, mostly, with some cultural analysis and commentary on urban planning and transportation from time to time. I like that many of his post are what I call dog-bark yelps; one of his typical blog titles (followed by a link to some distressing news about the state of our nation (USA) is “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”

I have a lot I want to blog about. So much that I get in my own way and trip over myself and end up posting nothing for distressingly long hiati (hiatuses). I have bunch of things half0-written & queued up, but I think my next post will be about some of the remarkably subtle and insightful things my friend Geraldine Brooks said the other night in an informal talk about the American Civil War in general, and her novel March in particular. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Civil War lately, and about how it was the result of 76 years of putting off until tomorrow dealing with the fact that slavery was incompatible with the ideals on which the country was founded.

In 2012, the whole world is, it seems to me, in a situation akin to that of the nation of the United States of America was in 1858 or so. There is a great reckoning to come. Where slavery was the great obvious problem to be resolved in the Civil War, the issues now before us are pan-human economic justice and survival of the planet Earth as a habitable place for all of us. The probability of a happy resolution of both of these issues will be apparent by how the SOPA/PIPA abomination fares in the U.S. Congress, and whether the XL pipeline is built. These will be crucial indicators –which is not to say determinants–of where we are and whither we are tending.  In the USA it became tragically apparent that the solution of the problem of slavery (and with it the preservation of the Union) could not be solved without war, war and death on a scale barely conceivable at the time and still hard to comprehend today, 150 years later. But something vastly worse awaits us if we keep putting off until tomorrow the problems that now confront us.

Shit is still so fucked up and bullshit. Damnit, Atrios, you are so right on the money.  Anyway, this is a place-holder diary entry to say happy 2012, and may we all be happy and prosper until the Mayan calendar ends and methane plumes erupt from beneath the arctic seas and the permafost melts to a depth of 20 metres and earth becomes Venus.  I’ll try to post more soon. I expect my tone will become increasingly abolitionist and strident as time passes, but let’s hope that it all works out.   Leave  a comment! Let’s get 2012 of to a nice, friendly, low energy start!