Micah Sifry: SOPA Part Of "Larger Struggle Over How Expression And Creation Will Be Supported"

Micah Sifry, head of Personal Democracy Media and an expert on the intersection of technology and politics, sees the battle over SOPA and PIPA as part of the ongoing changes affecting the content and entertainment industries in the Internet era: “They’re trying to use the law to artificially protect business models and slow down new ways of doing things that are disrupting that business model,” he told The Consumerist.

Sifry (who serves on the Board of Directors of our parent company) believes this is part of a “very long fight,” one in which the issue isn’t piracy, but control over the right to create and share content on the Internet:

The entertainment industry is trying to use its political power in Washington, which its spent decades amassing, to force laws that would harm consumers, smother free speech and dampen — if not kill off — a very innovative sector of the economy. In the long run, we need a free and open Internet with robust protection of free speech and that includes the ability to share content.

The whole idea that there’s this huge problem of online piracy has been basically ginned up by Hollywood. There’s no evidence that this is a crisis that requires a rush to legislate. There is already existing law on the books that allows the government to go after foreign rogue web sites engaged in unlawful pirating of content. Even if these bills as currently written are stopped, we shouldn’t be so naive as to think that the copyright cartel is going to stop trying to force-feed changes on the Internet. this is part of a larger struggle over how expression and creation will be supported.

Sifry concurs with other experts, such as Craig Newmark, who believe one reason bills like SOPA and PIPA have managed to get broad bipartisan support is a lack of technical expertise in Washington:

That’s a problem that’s bigger than just a lack of understanding of how the Internet works. Going back at least into the early 90s, Congress has lost a lot of institutional capability to judge hard technical issues on its own. We shouldn’t forget that under Newt Gingrich, the Office of Technology Assessment was de-funded. This makes them more vulnerable to arguments from lobbyists. and then you add in the fact that a lot of people havent studied the issue and there’s a temptation here, to look for an easy bipartisan win. It’s fascinating to see how this issue has cut across party lines and sort of scrambled the usual red-blue divide.

Like other experts we’ve spoken with, Sifry sees hope in the success of the anti-SOPA movement, which was fed by a combination of grassroots activists and major technology companies:

It’s not just silicon valley. Giant community hubs like Wikipedia and Reddit, which collectively get millions of visitors a day. And Congress is a very finely tuned weather vane, being hit by cross-cutting winds. They didn’t read the forecast very well and now they’re trying to tack in a different direction. It’s the emergence of a new kind of political alliance between big civic defenders of the web and tech-industry companies that have grown up by serving their users rather than exploiting them. …

These web sites that are quote going dark today are taking a risk that their users will be offended by the intertrruption in service and I think it’s very telling that they are doing this in response to user pressure. … When these big web sites that are real user-driven take these steps, it tells you that a large part of the public is paying attention and is aware of what’s at stake.

What’s next? Sifry hopes that the protests, the involvement of the White House and more open discussion by both sides have created a chance “to hit the restart button and get both sides at the table and look at this issue more carefully.” It’s a chance, Sifry says, for “a reboot.”

PDM Editorial: Why We’re Against PIPA/SOPA And For the Internet [TechPresident]