The day the Net stood still

The SOPA backlash was America’s digital spring


Yesterday’s SOPA protest changed everything or nothing, depending on who you ask.

Wikipedia went dark, as did Reddit and many smaller sites.  Google stayed live, but presented U.S. visitors with the above–a chilling break from the usual whimsical “Google Doodle.”  Hundreds of millions of people who knew little about SOPA, learned of it.  Lawmakers got the message, and many withdrew their support for the ham-fisted and technologically illiterate anti-piracy law. The bill itself may not be completely dead, but it’s pretty damn close.  Beyond the direct issue at hand, many regarded the event as a watershed in American politics.  SOPA-critic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren said:

“This is an important moment in the Capitol. Too often, legislation is about competing business interests. This is way beyond that. This is individual citizens rising up.”

On the other hand, maybe nothing changed at all. The Obama administration had already publicly trashed SOPA, and the bill’s chances were shaky at best. The disappearance of Wikipedia for a day led to many jokes about factually incorrect homework assignments, but we all somehow got by. And sure, millions of people signed petitions or changed their Twitter picture, but such “slacktivism” is easily dismissed–what’s a disgruntled mouse click worth, anyhow?

It can be worth plenty–plenty of money, and plenty of votes.  The SOPA backlash was nothing less than America’s digital spring. The Internet flexed its muscle, and Washington flinched.  The people now know what a little slacktivism can do, and so do their representatives.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

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The day the Net stood still

  1. Looks like Washington just flexed their muscle back:

    “U.S. shuts down file-sharing website Megaupload.com

    One of the world’s largest file-sharing sites was shut down Thursday, and its founder and several company executives were charged with violating piracy laws, federal prosecutors said.

    An indictment accuses Megaupload.com of costing copyright holders more than $500-million (U.S.) in lost revenue from pirated films and other content. The indictment was unsealed one day after websites including Wikipedia and Craigslist shut down in protest of two congressional proposals intended to thwart online piracy.

    Megaupload is considered a “cyberlocker,” in which users can upload and transfer files that are too large to send by e-mail. Such sites can have perfectly legitimate uses. But the Motion Picture Association of America, which has campaigned for a crackdown on piracy, estimated that the vast majority of content being shared on Megaupload was in violation of copyright laws.”


    • Ha!  Says more is coming.

      “Anonymous downs government, music industry sites in largest attack ever

      The latest of sites to fall is FBI.gov, which finally broke at around 7:40 pm EST Thursday evening.
      Less than an hour after the DoJ and Universal sites came down, the website for the RIAA, or Recording Industry Association of America, went offline as well. Shortly before 6 p.m EST, the government’s Copyright.gov site went down as well. Thirty minutes later came the site for BMI, or Broadcast Music, Inc, the licensing organization that represents some of the biggest names in music.
      Also on Thursday, MPAA.org returned an error as Anonymous hacktivists managed to bring down the website for the Motion Picture Association of America. The group, headed by former senator Chris Dodd, is an adamant supporter of both PIPA and SOPA legislation.”


      • See this is the part that’s really scary. World Wide Web War I

        • Yeah no kidding. And for what? To resist the inevitable?

          I think the powers that be are in for a rude awakening in the next few decades, not just in this regard specifically, but in general, because the new generation hasn’t bought into the political system and has powerful tools at its disposal that they are clearly prepared to use.

          The revolution isn’t coming, it’s already started.

  2. made no difference whatsoever.

    • Read some of today’s headlines:

      “Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid on Friday abruptly postponed a showdown vote in his chamber, initially set for next week, on an online anti-piracy bill.” 

  3. I see comments on this topic everywhere, and yet very few people seem to grasp the massive paradigm shift enough to understand why this attack on the internet is so counter-intuitive.

    In the past decade the internet has become the ultimate market for electronic media. The market reach, the capacity, the low-cost structure etc etc.

    Instead of taking advantage of this in a sensible way and adopting an appropriate response however, the industry has instead clung with all its might to the old model, throwing hundreds of millions at this to forestall the inevitable instead of using that same money to develop a sane response.

    So the predictable happened. They lost control. Big time.

    Now they’re scrambling to keep what they got, but any reasonable analysis of the technological capabilities of your average hacker group should tell you they haven’t got a hope in hell of winning this war they seem to have started. It might be a good way for the US to slowly lose the control they have over the internet they created as work-arounds are designed, but other than that I can’t see what they think they will achieve over the long term.

    Again, I am all for the industry and its artists making gobs of money. This is what is required for high value productions of music and video. I don’t want to see this lost, but if they think they can’t be replaced by those around the world hungry to do so, they’re dreaming in technicolor. Yes technicolor, because that’s how backward these people appear to be from my perspective.

    They’re clinging to something that will inevitably sink: a very specific way of making money where other smarter options exist. Even just a casual analysis of the potential of the internet should make it clear there is gobs of money to be made under a different model.

    Make it easy, accessible and interactive.

    Make it fun; take advantage of the interest from a social level, a cultural level, an artistic level. Use the free advertising of social media. Hell, even the pirating could be harnessed in various ways.

    Make it cheap per unit, understanding that you make it back from the sheer size of the market, which you never realistically had access to before, and understanding that your overhead for distribution is now essentially zero. You could make a zillion copies of anything for practically nothing now; why not find a way to harness that!

    You can take advantage of this new paradigm or you can see it slip between your fingers, because if you think you can hold out indefinitely against the force of the global market, billions seeking access, then you’ve been smoking too much of the green stuff.

    So we can prattle on and on about “theft” and “IP” and pretend we’re saying something meaningful, but in reality this is all just a distraction. I don’t agree with theft, but only a fool thinks it has proliferated as it has on its own and isn’t a sign or indication of a bigger paradigm shift that isn’t being appropriately managed.

    • And to think that a singer/entertainer turned U.S. Senator got the greed ball rolling with new copyright laws in the ’80’s that saw his works protected for something like 95 years after his death!
      We do live in interesting times, lol

      • I suppose the greed is understandable, but these types haven’t been paying enough attention to the ground under their feet. It’s all quicksand now. LOL

        When the internet first came out, I used to share files. Back then it was just something new and interesting and people didn’t see it as much different as taping a song off the radio or a TV show on a VCR. The quality wasn’t super and the time it took was, in hindsight, hilarious, though sometimes I feel nostalgic about it and hook up the old monochrome monitor and play the old atari-style games for kicks! LOL

        Over time I came to dislike what I was seeing. I became one of those anti-piracy people simply because it seemed to have grown to dangerous proportions, possibly undermining the industry.

        Then one day I realized it was all besides the point. It was the result of a new paradigm that no one was really recognizing or taking advantage of. Besides the techno-saavy nerd types that is. LOL

        Somehow, more than a decade later the industry seems no more clued-in than before, and I’ve come to see them as an impediment to real progress.

        They have this incredible thing at their finger tips. A revolutionary means of bringing the world together, and yes, making gobs and gobs of cash.

        They just don’t seem to grasp that their old model is blinding them to the potential, and that they’re biting the very hand that feeds them.

        Now here we are today, and they seem to have learned nothing. Boggles the mind really.

    • And again, the problem with this is that anything they can provide digitally, a pirate can provide digitally as well, with less overhead because he doesn’t have to pay the artists in the first place.  Assuming the pirate even has a profit motive to begin with.  Remember, the first torrenting programs weren’t built to make money, but just to share files.  Say some pirate really likes the iTunes method of organizing stuff, but hates iTunes. It’s entirely possible for said pirate to duplicate the site’s operation as a hobby project. In fact, it’s even easier then, because the pirate doesn’t have to worry about security for protecting the music and ensuring payment.

      The music and entertainment industries are fighting so hard because they will die. There is no room for them on the internet, despite your assertions.  The only way artists will be able to make money is by charging directly, and once we go there, we get rid of one of the functions of the music industry — weeding out 90% of the crap.  (That they continue to produce so much crap regardless tells you exactly how much crap there is out there.)

      • While you’re busy thinking of all the reasons that piracy is wrong or how “impossible” it is to supplant, you’re really just wasting your time trying to justify an outdated model.

        What is needed is brainstorming on how to provide value that pirates can’t. If that honestly can’t be achieved, which I think is silly and simply reflects a poor attitude, ie giving up, then perhaps we need question the value being provided in the first place.

        However, you’re never going to convince me that there is no way to make decent money on the internet selling content. Perhaps I’ll spend the day thinking up ways to combat this. If I, as one person on his day off can even find one avenue of approach, it is proof positive of how bloody lazy the industry has been.

        In any case, trying to pretend that the sensible way forward is some form of internet warfare is even more unbelievable to me. It’s the “War on X” all over again. Why is god’s name would anyone think that failed paradigm is going to work… this time?

        Making war with millions of people who are demonstrating a demand is ludicrous and foolhardy. There has to be a better more progressive option.

        Even just off the top of my head there is an obvious starting point. Most people, if given a legal option that is reasonably priced, will take that option. Yes, that can include an element of social awareness of the immorality of pirating. That only makes sense. So where is that option? I use Itunes because it’s simple and easy to use. They sell me a cool device that links right in without fuss or muss. A model?

        I suspect there will always be some form of pirating of course. There pretty much always has been, even before the internet. That said, there is a cost/benefit to be considered. If you can get most people or at least the majority onside through various subtle means, then that has to be better than attacking people, which will and has always backfired.

        In any case, until the industry actually gets off its rear and tries something besides a hammer, I don’t expect they’ll make any impact at all over the long term.

        • I’m not trying to justify the model at all. I’m pointing out that it’s dead. It just hasn’t realized it yet. The only thing that can preserve the model of artists working full-time on their art is going back to a patronage system, where somebody (or these days, some fan club) likes someone or something enough that they agree to provide the person support while they make more work.

          Any notion of supporting artists because other people might like it and you can profit thereby is basically in the grave and we’re waiting for it to be covered.

          The other option as I said before is that we as a society start treating people who would benefit from another person’s work for free like pariahs. And as you point out, that simply isn’t going to happen.

      • “…The only way artists will be able to make money is by charging directly, and once we go there, we get rid of one of the functions of the music industry — weeding out 90% of the crap…”

        On this specifically, that’s the job of society at large. Let them “weed the crap” and then decide which shows to spend their time and money attending.

        As far as online, I don’t expect the per unit to be as lucrative. That said, the vast size of the internet market can more than make up for it in volume, if the industry can find a way to add value that the pirates can’t.

        That’s the real trick, and it doesn’t even have to be all that much value. If people perceive even a small difference, either through the interactive scope or subjective value, as long as they perceive the concrete costs as minor, they will tend to gravitate toward that value.

        Maybe you can’t replace pirating, but you can make it more or less irrelevant in many ways.

        The industry wants it easy. Well, that’s over with and they need to clue in. The easy dollar is gone and isn’t coming back, no matter how many fans you jail or fine. In fact you’d think the irony of casting people as villains that millions of people relate closely to, would be self evident. Sigh.

        There is however a new world out there for them to become a part of. It would be nice if they really put some effort there.

        • “The real trick” and “some effort” don’t even begin to describe the challenges, because as I’ve said repeatedly and you keep avoiding: Anything digital the producers can do can be duplicated and distributed for less money than they can do it for.

          This leaves them with
          A) Physical Merchandise, or
          B) Live interaction.

          Both of which blow your low-price-high-volume model of business out of the water. Live interaction because the synchronous nature cuts out massive portions of your audience, and physical goods because there are fixed bottom line costs to such that you can’t get around.

          I mean please, you’re all about how “If they’d only done more this wouldn’t be a problem”, kindly give your solution for what they can do that pirates can’t duplicate, but that give them reasonable rates of return.

          I guess what’s getting to me is it seems to me that what you’re doing is essentially going, “Those buggy-whip makers get no sympathy from me. They shouldn’t have sat on their rear ends while Ford was making the mass assembly line. If they’d jumped on the mass assembly line idea earlier themselves they wouldn’t be having so much trouble, but they didn’t so it’s their own fault.” and while I don’t support keeping the buggywhip makers around while they’re no longer useful, it seems to me to be pretty unfair blaming them for their troubles.

          • Honestly Thwim, I think you’re underestimating people. Most people I know who download prefer legal means. I suspect that’s because the majority do indeed agree with the theft label you’re talking about. The problem is there’s really very little simple and legal access to a whole load of stuff.

            Look at the success of ITunes. They haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of their offerings and interactive capabilities and they do pretty good business.

            Before declaring the industry dead, they should at least make an effort to win people over. They’ve done bloody little of that while dumping god knows how many millions into lobbying and the like to tick people off. Sitting on your hands isn’t a great way of getting backing or sympathy.

            There’s been very little use of existing popular online social infrastructure to date. Hell, there’s been little use of pretty much anything. Apple’s practically by itself out there in terms of music. Netflicks and the like are still in their infancy. The industry has been slooooow on all this.

            If in the final analysis it turns out that yes indeed the horse and buggy have been metaphorically replaced by the model-T and there’s no way to adapt, then well, that speaks for itself too.

            After all, are YOU going to go back to shovelling horse poop out of moral indignity at the pollution caused by cars? Yeah, me neither.

            Either way, I know this for sure: Music and movies will still be made, they’ll still be good, and the artists will still make lots of money. Beyond that I fail to see what the argument is really about. The world has changed paradigms and isn’t remotely done changing, so I find it hard to take some aspects of the handwringing at the various micro-stages all that seriously in the longview.

    • Absolutely right. Why don’t they sell digital copies only of movies instead of including them in  Blu-ray packages? A digital copy of a block buster can be sold for $5, and I can bet that they will see doubling or tripling of sales. Price of movies on iTunes could be cut drastically. It will only help them sell more and make more money. People who couldn’t afford to buy or even go to the movies will suddenly be able to afford it. That will bring them loads of new customers from all over the world who had to do without or download illegally simply because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.

      Instead they are wasting hundreds of MILLIONS in lawyers cause that is the only thing they know. The most disturbing thing? That is our money they are spending to fight us! The more we buy, the more they have to spend on fighting us.

      Everybody MUST stop going to the theatre and buying music and movies for a month. That will be a good enough kick in their backsides.

  4. In the last two decades, as the industry sat on its rear, somehow a loosely associated group of computer geeks the world over managed to put together a better, faster and more sensible distribution infrastructure than the industry producing the raw goods. Using little more than volunteered time and driven primarily by the desire to listen to music and watch video.

    Surely we must recognize there is something wrong with an industry that allowed this much interest in their product to languish without their input for so incredibly long?

    People want what they want, when they want it and how they want it. It’s called DEMAND and the industry cut itself out of the supply channels by standing idle for decades while the infrastructure was built without their input.

    The infrastructure that will define the 21st century no less.

    And now the industry is whining that people are using it without them? Insisting that people stop using it while providing no sensible alternatives? Well hell, while you’re at it, why not insist I throw away my mechanical pencil and use a coal stick instead! LOL

    The industry can and will be replaced in time if they don’t get with it. All they have left is the core creative input, but left long enough technology will overtake that too by levelling the playing field in various ways, and they’ll be left with squat.

    When I was young I worked in a recording studio. The mixing board alone was worth over $200K. Today I can get a better mixing board for under $5K. See where we’re going with this? Once you remove the technical barriers, all that’s left is the creative part, and does anyone honestly think that only certain people have corner on that? LOL

    Get in the game or go home already!

    • Getting with it won’t save them. They’re dead unless we as a society start making pirating a seriously uncool thing to do, like incest.

      • Oh good grief Thwim, you really need to think your examples out better.

        You’re going to convince millions and millions of people that downloading a song can be equated with incest?


        Hey bud, I’m not cool with theft either, but sensible people don’t stand in the face of a hurricane and think they can shout it down! LOL

  5. I found the net seemed less impeded on Wednesday. 
    Could visits to Wikipedia and the other blacked out sites be using that much bandwidth much of the time. 

  6. Alright, I spent a little time lazing about Bridgehead drinking way too much coffee and thinking up a few ideas for our poor beleaguered millionaires in the entertainment industry. Maybe there’s something useful here, maybe not. Hell, maybe I’m delusional, but as they say, ignorance is bliss and I’m guessing so is delusion. Either way I’m good! LOL
    PREMISE: Most people will choose legal means if value add and reasonable cost structure is employed, especially if status or other psychological knowns are used. So what does the industry have that the pirates don’t and can’t copy and thus compete with? What can they do that the pirates can’t? I’m sure there are lots I haven’t thought of, so by all means add on.
    Industry has money and networks so use them: Heightened quality web presence, multiple media tie-ins including more traditional media channels. Social networking tie-ins. Work with other legitimate firms to build a highly interactive interface that sows together all sorts of sites and things people want from across the societal spectrum. Think movies, music, coffee, food, clothing etc. Psychologically speaking people can be drawn in through all sorts of means not directly related. It all comes back to creating a cool factor or in-group to be a part of or making something a more acceptable social norm/expectation. Make exclusion suck. The infrastructure for this already exists, so make use of it.
    Access to artists and venues that can be used to attract people to use their sites: Spinoffs galore such as authentic specialty unique merchandising give away or low cost sale. If you’re getting something “real” out of it that you can’t get otherwise people will be drawn. For cost purposes you limit availability lottery style or otherwise, which increases its value while keeping costs down.
    In general people are psychologically drawn to the perception of savings: Bought a lot of music from our site? Half price tickets next time Band X is in town, or whatever, but use something “real” that can’t be copied and attracts use. In studies, 10% off a high price is more favoured than the same item at an even further reduced price with no purported discount. Weird but true.
    Access to proprietary technological interfaces: Apple has this one going so far. Tying site use to things that are “real” or harder to copy and represent social status. This one’s hard to predict, but use what’s there! Coopetition (cooperative competition) needs to become more of a norm.
    Hire the hackers!: Give these people reason to work with you rather than against you. Turn it to your advantage. These people are greedy too right? That could mean wiping out pirate sites with your own high paid hackers or it could mean increased security on your own site, or even indirectly using what they’ve got going already to advertise. Divide and conquer. Turnabout is fair play! Some may balk at this and see it as rewarding pirates, but we’re trying to turn around decades of inaction, and the point is to win. Besides, they did most of the infrastructure building while the industry napped.
    SUMMATION: I suppose it comes down to two things: Getting people “involved” in something bigger than themselves and/or other activities to which the downloading of music is but one aspect, and using hardcopy-style things that can’t be copied. Other than that, make sure you’re not giving people excuses. If you’re not online offering this stuff in the way people have demonstrated a demand for, there’s no point complaining. Passing these stupid laws just increases the anti-authoritarian appeal, but realistically you can’t jail or fine enough people to stop this stuff anyways. This is a classic “War on X” mentality that is a certain loser.

  7. To add to all this, there’s the problem of technology progression and the future paradigm that no one is even talking about. We’re looking at optical chips coming out by 2020 that make the best computer available on the market today look like a bloody hamster wheel, and that’s not even considering what’s going to happen when quantum computing inevitably hits the market in the next couple decades.

    Think the governments of the world are going stop this type of behaviour by the present suggested means come a decade from now? Dream on. They can’t do it effectively enough now.

    Believe me when I say, twenty-somethings, that your own grandchildren won’t be able to relate to anything we’re talking about today. My grandparents didn’t have electricity or anything of things that came with it, until they were in their twenties, but that pales in comparison to the type of paradigm change we’re talking about in the next twenty or thirty years.

  8. Interestingly, I have been reading a series of articles, written by a successful working author, in his publisher’s online magazine, which presents an amazingly articulate agrument AGAINST all of the copywright restrictions which the publishing, music, and motion picture industry moguls are saying are necessary to “protect” artists. He includes both facts and figures, as well as logical arguments, to show that excessive rpotection actually works to their detriment, and to the detriment of the publishers and distributors of these works.

    I warn anyone interested in looking at this that it is a lengthy document, but well worth reading. It can be found at:


  9. Protests do nothing. This going dark business is just what it is. It effects nothing but raises awareness, which is the only good thing. I hope all those RIAA and MPAA sites are destroyed. That is the only action that will teach some lessons. Everything else we do just makes them giggle at our helplessness.

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