Here’s a revised version of an op-ed I published on the potential importance of the SOPA fight. The original appeared in Hollywood Reporter (caution: paywall).
What went wrong for SOPA, the entertainment industry’s proposal for stopping international piracy? And what does it mean for Hollywood’s future clout in Washington?
I had a ringside seat for the battle over SOPA, though not as a supporter. I thought it would make Internet users more vulnerable to cybercrime. That was a problem that could have been fixed. Instead, after a brief halt and some modest changes, the entertainment industry decided to press for a showdown.
And a showdown, of course, is what it got.
Why did it turn out so badly? The entertainment industry’s first mistake, then and now, is believing that its adversary is a group of other companies — Google, Internet service providers, and others — who are somehow hoping to profit from the Internet travails of the entertainment industry.
In fact, the industry is fighting what amounts to a new popular culture.
Unlike the old pop culture, this one is largely independent of the music, movie, and broadcast industries. In fact, people who spend hours on line instead of watching TV or going to movies will probably encounter the entertainment industry only when Youtube videos of their kids dancing to Prince or spoofing Star Wars are pulled down by Hollywood’s bots, or when the RIAA threatens to sue them for their college savings, or when digital rights software makes it hard to move their stuff to a new tablet or phone.
To the entertainment industry these episodes may seem like collateral damage in the fight to stop piracy. To the new pop culture, though, collateral damage and misuse of enforcement tools is everywhere, and it threatens everyone. The content industry has made itself into the villain. Increasingly it looks like an occupying power; obeyed at gunpoint, despised for its hamhanded excesses, and resisted from every dark corner. Unfortunately for the entertainment industry, as its customers migrate to the Internet, it loses not just their money but their hearts and minds as well.
(photo credit: practicalowl)