One outlier is Robert Levine, the author of Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business. The problem, he says, is that both sides tend to frame the copyright debate as a moral issue, when it's really a classic "clash of interests."

"I've never in my life wanted to pay for a record," Levine says. "That's my interest as a consumer, but it's not in the public interest." The public interest lies in making sure that creative material gets produced, not in giving everyone free access to it, he says. And that in fact is the reason copyright originally came about in English Common Law, on which American copyright laws were originally based — not to protect the interests of creators, but to protect the public interest by ensuring that knowledge could be disseminated.

Levine is the former executive editor of Billboard, and before that, he worked for Wired; he's got cred on both sides of the tech/media divide. He opposed SOPA (because of its fundamental terribleness as a piece of legislation), but thought that its most strident opponents were just as bad as the copyright industries at framing their side of the issue. Anti-SOPA zealots stirred up public opinion based on misinformation, he says. For instance, an oft-cited claim was that SOPA would "break the Internet." Levine equates such rhetoric with the Republicans' warning about "death panels" during the healthcare debate. On the other hand, in the healthcare debate there was no equivalent of Vint Cerf talking about death panels. Cerf, often called a "father of the Internet," was one of many networking experts who thought SOPA might interfere with the Net's basic operation. The only people talking about "death panels" were crackpots.

Cartoonist Matthew Inman examined these issues at
Courtesy of
Cartoonist Matthew Inman examined these issues at
Reddit's Alexis Ohanian believes the best ideas prevail on the Internet.
C.S. Muncy
Reddit's Alexis Ohanian believes the best ideas prevail on the Internet.

Levine points out that piracy is a problem that needs to be addressed reasonably. "We can argue about how much piracy hurts [creators of content], but to say it's not hurting them at all is insane," he says. "To people who say the music business isn't losing money to piracy, I say: 'What are you, fucking nuts?'"

Ohanian describes the bill's failure as an example of "people winning against lobbying dollars." He's partly right. It was actually more like people and lobbying dollars winning against other lobbying dollars. Google and other tech companies worked hard in Washington to get the bill shelved. But the movement against it had been bubbling up online for many months, and it reached its pinnacle with the blackouts.

Still, Ohanian insists that opposition to SOPA was "all bottom-up." The blackout at Reddit, the first site to announce such a plan, "wasn't a top-level decision — it was a top-level response" to the denizens of Reddit, who came up with the idea after months of discussing strategy among themselves.

Just as Ohanian credits people power, supporters of SOPA tend to cite tech-industry lobbying as the cause of the bill's defeat, and backroom politics surely played some role. Silicon Valley is finally coming into its own as a power player in Washington, and the tech industry's lobbyists played their part — just not as big a part as is often claimed. SOPA supporters made much of the news that Google had spent $5 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2012. That's what really killed SOPA, some of them said.

To buy into that theory, though, is to succumb to the idea that the issue is nothing more than two opposed industries each fighting for their own interests. That's only part of the story. The tech industry in the specific case of SOPA not only happens to be in the right, but it also happens to still be massively outgunned when it comes to lobbying.

Most of Google's lobbying took place before the company's spending upsurge. (Google spent only $1.48 million on lobbying in the same quarter of the previous year.) While some of that money surely went toward defeating the piracy bills, it most likely represented a tiny proportion of the total, since the quarter started just a couple of weeks before the bills were shelved. SOPA/PIPA supporters counter that Google had ramped up its spending throughout 2011, to $3.72 million in the fourth quarter. That's true, but again, it's impossible to know how much of that went to defeating the bills, and Google has other political interests. If it's fair to see Google's total lobbying expenditures as evidence that the company bought Congress away from the piracy bills, then it's also fair to note how much the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent during the same period on all its various interests. Along with the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America, the Chamber was the leading pro-SOPA lobbyist, spending $14.2 million on all lobbying in the fourth quarter. The RIAA spent $1.1 million, and the MPAA $850,000.

So, no, Google didn't buy off the House.

Like all those organizations, Google has its interests in Washington — mainly, in keeping potential trustbusters out of its face, but also in fighting other matters, like possible privacy regulation. Meanwhile, however much political muscle the tech industry might have built up in recent years, it's nothing compared to the might of the copyright industry, which has been working Congress since before the silent film era. No representatives are as "captured" (to use a term of art) by Big Tech as Lamar Smith is by Big Media. Smith, a Texas Republican and the lead sponsor of SOPA in the House, got $133,050 from SOPA supporters in the two years before July 2011, according to Maplight, an organization that tracks campaign finance. Co-sponsor Howard Berman, a Democrat from the district that encompasses Hollywood, got $328,400 from many of the same sources during that period. (One of the striking things about the piracy debate is how nonpartisan it is. There are Democrats and Republicans on both sides.)

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Those sites offering pirated material are at the root of the problem as much as they are at the margin.


Piracy is good for the companies if used correctly. instead of insisting on taking money for a product make it available for free, and link to a support site inside the product or beside it. doing it this way people will if they like it support it. it's this simple I will not pay for a product that is bad. how can I in advance know if it's bad ? only way is to try it, if it's above mediocre I will go pay the original title of that product. if it's mediocre or below I wouldn't had bought it anyway so no money lost for the industry there anyway. just saying something have been downloaded X amount of times is equal to X amount of loss is seriously the worst way to talk about how much the companies have lost. if it's dowloaded 10 times and it's a fairly good product most likely 4-5 of those 10 downloads will go out and buy it afterwards thus not loosing the money for that 4 or 5 downloads, then out of the rest most likely there are 2-3 persons that doesn't like it thus they would never had bought it anyway. so what is the loss then that 3-4 persons out of 10 doesn't pay for something they liked so for real it would be about 30-40% loss but out of those there would probably be some telling others how good this product is and thereby getting others to look at it and again more to buy it, so the real loss is more likely to be around maybe 10-20% of what the companies could had gotten if everyone was legal and had some moral. now we know that is not how the world is there will always be some criminals and a loss of 10-20% isn't that different from any other products out there that aren't artistics. because criminals will go to the black market and sell there stuff. the laws as they are now is flawed they Prevent development and does not protect the consumer as they should. we need new laws in the copyrights area, with a focus on protecting Consumers and Encurageing Development. software, technoligy, music, video and etc. industry needs to stop trying to controle the market and accept that others will produce something that might be better. what is the answer to a better product in competition it is to make a even better product. not suing that company for maybe breaking a patent. in fact patents shouldn't be in the new copyright laws once something is made it's to the market first and as long as it is being developed to be best there will be costumers. Stop assumeing that what is best for the companies is best for development and the consumer.

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