Victory Over SOPA

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“When we feel the heat, we see the light.” ~ Senator Everett Dirksen

On Wednesday, January 18, the forces of liberty gained a major political victory over the entrenched meddlers in Congress. The owners of a handful of popular Internet sites joined together to protest SOPA/PIPA. They blacked out their sites and provided information on the threat to Internet liberty this bill posed.

Before the day was over, a majority of our elected representatives were doing a superb imitation of the captain of the grounded Italian cruise ship. They abandoned ship as fast as he did, and for the same reason. (Note: the reason was not that they had slipped and fallen into the lifeboat, then to be carried to safety against their will.)

A few weeks before, the Senate version of the House’s SOPA (Stop Online Piracy ACT) bill, called PIPA, was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. PIPA stands for the Protect IP [Intellectual Property] Act. It was non-controversial at the time. It was on a well-greased skid to passage.

Let us not be naive. SOPA/PIPA is a payback for to the entertainment industry’s generous support of PACs and campaign donations. For a list of who got how much, click here.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) did object. He was not on the committee. He vowed to filibuster PIPA. So, Harry Reid announced that he would push it through. He vowed to introduce a 60-vote cloture motion to limit debate. Senator Reid said he would schedule the debate on January 24. There is a Website called Unanimous Consent. It tracks the fast-track bills. Here was its assessment on December 23.

PROTECT IP has 40 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, which means that it could easily clear procedural hurdles to its passage. At this point, there is considerable momentum towards passage, but opponents have effectively used the internet to direct outrage about the bill towards Capitol Hill and organize opposition. The sooner supporters move on the bill, the more likely it will pass. The later opponents can push back the bill, the less likely it will pass. The more opponents stall, the more Senators will feel uncomfortable with supporting the bill and increase their support of an amendment or compromise. While it is less likely to stop the bill outright, opponents can significantly dilute the content of the bill or substitute a compromise measure.

If you want an overview of just how bad SOPA is, click here.

Then came the coordinated guerrilla attack. Wikipedia shut down for a day. Anyone searching for something got a one-page explanation of the threat to Internet liberty posed by the bill.

For those of us who despise former Senator Dodd, of Dodd-Frank fame, the following tirade is a delight to read. For us old timers, who despised his father even more, it is sheer ecstasy.

In a Tuesday statement, Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – and a former Connecticut senator – said Web sites participating in the blackout are “resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.” . . .

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on [these sites] for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today.”

Then came Wednesday. The protest began early in the morning. It accelerated all day. One of my site members posted on a forum that the Senate’s Website had gone down. He could not contact his Senator. The traffic overwhelmed the site. The New York Times describes what happened through the day.

First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.’s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever. Then trickle turned to flood – adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members announced their opposition. The Good Old Boys learned that they cannot conduct business as usual any longer – not when Internet autonomy is concerned. The Internet can mobilize millions of voters in hours. The Good Old Boys had not yet figured this out on Tuesday. They are slow learners. The Times continued:

And for all the campaign contributions, Washington parties and high-priced lobbyists the old economy could muster, nothing could compare to the tentacles the new economy can reach into Americans’ everyday lives through sites like Wikipedia. Aides to Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, say he will press forward with a vote Tuesday to open debate on the Protect I.P. bill. Negotiators from both parties are scrambling for new language that could assuage the concerns of the Internet community, but expectations are that the bill will now fail to get the 60 votes to move forward – a significant setback.

Then came this cry of despair from the movie-record industry complex.

“The problem for the content industry is they just don’t know how to mobilize people,” said John P. Feehery, a former House Republican leadership aide who previously worked at the motion picture association. “They have a small group of content makers, a few unions, whereas the Internet world, the social media world especially, can reach people in ways we never dreamed of before.”

He’s got it! And, by the end of the day on Wednesday, so had Congress.

The Techdirt site had it right.

Think the blackouts were just a “publicity stunt” that didn’t wake up the American people to a serious problem with the legislative process? Wikipedia has now revealed that an astounding eight million people used its tool to look up their elected officials’ contact info. It’s not yet clear how many actually called, but some information on calls is starting to come out, and it sure sounds like a lot of people called. We heard from multiple Senate staffers that the phones – both in DC and back home in the district offices – were ringing non-stop with complaints about the bill. Our own calling widget, care of Engine Advocacy, got a tremendous amount of usage – including over 2,000 phone calls per minute at peak calling times. Meanwhile, Google’s online petition scored 4.5 million signatures… and that’s the number that was reported earlier in the day. I’m sure it was higher by the end of the day. Anyone think this isn’t a mainstream issue yet? More importantly, can anyone explain why various Senators still want to move forward with this bill?

Congress got hammered. This is an election year. Days before, officials with the Obama Administration revealed that the President is concerned about some of the site shut-down provisions in SOPA. The unstated threat: a veto. President Obama is more tech-savvy than Congress. Social media got him elected. He saw what was about to happen. He wisely got out of the way. Congress didn’t.

“This is huge,” said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. “[Social networks] pretty much drove the mass objections and stopped this bill from becoming law. I think we are actually seeing the beginning of a huge change in the political process worldwide that [has] social networks at the core.”

A HUGE CHANGE

It began on January 17, 1998 – exactly 14 years prior to Chris Dodd’s sneering dismissal of what was about to happen the next day. It began with a story on Bill Clinton and an unnamed intern. We read on Wikipedia:

News of the scandal first broke on January 17, 1998, on the Drudge Report website, which reported that Newsweek editors were sitting on a story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff exposing the affair. The story broke in the mainstream press on January 21 in The Washington Post.

For four days, the mainstream media dithered. They did not sense what was about to happen to them. Then they reported the story. Matt Drudge, a nobody, had forced their hand.

Today, the Drudge Report has 145 million hits a month, evenly distributed between American and foreign. This is reported here. In contrast, Newsweek was sold by the Washington Post in 2010 for one dollar. Its debts – huge – came with it. It merged with the Daily Beast, and it is dragging down the DB’s profits.

Drudge is a political conservative. In contrast, DailyBeast/Newsweek is liberal.

In June 1998, six months after he tossed his hand grenade, Drudge spoke at the National Press Club. In the weeks before his speech, he solicited advice from his readers. I sent him a brief note. He replied. I made this point. He had broken the control of the Establishment’s media gatekeepers. I told him that this was a milestone.

In his speech, he said this. I quote a long section, for he threw down the gauntlet to the reporters’ closed club. He rubbed their noses in it. A new world order in reporting had appeared, and he was its avatar.

From a little corner in my Hollywood apartment, in the company of nothing more than my 486 computer and my six – six-toed cat, I have consistently been able to break big stories, thanks to this network of ordinary guys. The Drudge Report: first to the name the vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket last election; first to announce to an American audience that Princess Diana had tragically died; first to sell – tell the sad, sad story of Kathleen Willey; first every weekend with box-office results that even studio executives, some of them, admit they get from me. A new cable network is forming. I was first to announce the unholy alliance between Microsoft and NBC. I’ve written thousands of stories, started hundreds of news cycles. My readers can follow earthquakes, weather patterns, read Frank Rich on Saturday, Maureen Dowd on Sunday, from my site link to Bob Novak on Monday; dozens of other media spectrum[s], from Molly Ivins; track the world’s news wires minute to minute. And this is something new. This marks the first time that an individual has access to the news wires outside of a newsroom. You get to read all the news from the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more – the more arcane Agence France-Presse and the Chenois [phonetic]. I’m a personal fan of the Chenois Press. And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the day’s events. But now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons – endless layers of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat it had no meaning. Now with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the world – no middle man, no big brother. And I guess this changes everything.

It certainly changed on the night of January 17th, when Newsweek spiked, at the 11th hour, a well-researched, responsibly documented piece about the President of the United States and an obscure White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. After checking with multiple sources, I ran a story about the killing of the story. According to the Los Angeles Times, people familiar with the matter said Clinton was informed Saturday night or Sunday morning The Drudge Report had posted that Lewinsky was about to erupt. For four days I had the story exclusively, and I took a lot of heat. Everyone was afraid of it until the water broke…over at The Washington Post that Wednesday, and then everyone jumped on it. Now they love it too much, and I’m still taking the heat. “He’s one man out of control,” a caller warned on talk radio in Los Angeles. “There is such a built-in level of irresponsibility in everything he does,” cried First Amendment protector Floyd Abrams in a page one Wall Street Journal piece. “The notion of a Matt Drudge cyber gossip sitting next to William Safire on Meet the Press would have been unthinkable,” smacked Watergate’s Carl Bernstein in an op-ed.

And then, to make his point perfectly clear, he quoted the First Lady herself.

“Any time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws a system, whatever it might be – political, economic, technological – out of balance, you’ve got a problem. It can lead to all kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically.”

Since then, the print media industry has been in a long decline. This will not change. The Good Old Boys who listened to his speech are retired, in a new line of work, dead, or struggling to make ends meet. They would love to have Drudge’s ad revenue for just one day per year.

It is fitting that, on Wednesday, January 18, Drudge ran a column on the suppression of a 2-hour interview that Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife gave to ABC news. ABC News has decided not to run it before the South Carolina primary on the following Saturday. It was Newsweek all over again! These people still think they can spike their way though life, timing the release of news for political purposes. But as soon as Drudge posted the story on Wednesday evening, they backtracked. They decided to run it on Thursday night. They had felt the heat, so they saw the light.

Year by year, the networks’ market share declines. Their influence wanes. As I wrote to Drudge almost 14 years ago, the gatekeepers stand at the gates, but the walls have collapsed.

CONCLUSION

The tide is turning against all of the political Establishments on earth. A year ago, the Internet brought down a tyrant in Tunisia. More followed.

The Web, the social media, YouTube: they cannot be stopped. Ask Chris Dodd.

The terms of engagement have changed. The bonehead Congressman who confiscated the cell phones of his town hall audience could not keep the videos off YouTube. Shortly after the video was posted, he backed down. I wrote about this here. These people are slow learners. Their old habits die hard. But the Internet is educating them, one by one.

Have hope. This is the wave of the future.

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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