January 25th, 2012

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Larry Downes is almost right on this one

I usually disagree with pretty much everything Larry Downes says, so the fact that he is probably about a third right in this piece on Who Really Stopped SOPA isn't bad.

I will hopefully get a chance to blog this later (although I have a serious backlog of non-SOPA blog posts to write) on the specifics. But while Downes is right about the fact that no one company was responsible or dictated outcomes (and that companies like Google and sites like Wiki were driven by their users, not the other way around), he is wrong on a number of key points. For one thing, Hollywood did not have a 35 year winning streak. We had about 10 years of stalemate, with Hollywood slowly gaining the upper hand in recent years. What made PIPA/SOPA so interesting was that it looked like Hollywood had broken the stalemate by a combination of allying with Pharma and using Nashville to reach Republicans like Blackburn.

The more significant flaw is that Downes falls into the "and then the people rose up" fantasy. What really happened was much more interesting and makes me bitterly regret that I never managed to write my book -- since this is the model I described back in 2005. What we have is complex system where organizations with expertise or skills make those available collaboratively, creating a "rough consensus and running code" for civic engagement. The SOPAblackout originated in the Reddit Community, but what transformed it from an idea to a highly successful concept was the back and forth between those with technical expertise, political expertise, and and shareable resources. The fact that decisionmaking is distributed and organic in real time does not make expertise, experience and resources irrelevant. to the contrary, it makes them critical so that you have them when you need them.

Finally, the last third of Downes' piece should be dismissed as pure self-indulgent fantasy. The 'net did not suddenly become a Libertarian juggernaut ready to pounce on Downes' pet peeves from net neutrality (of which he was a consistent opponent) to privacy regulation. The anti-PIPA/SOPA fight was so wildly effective because it cut across all ideological lines. Whether you hate all government regulation per se, or hate corporate power per se, or just found Hollywood's attempts at justification unbearably smug so that you wanted to punch 'em in the teeth, then you hated PIPA/SOPA.
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Jim Brito On Why We Won't See Too Many Internet Blackouts

Jim Brito had this insightful piece on why internet blackouts are unlikely to be a popular tactic and why PIPA/SOPA represented a perfect storm for a number of political science theories.
http://techland.time.com/2012/01/23/why-we-wont-see-many-protests-like-the-sopa-blackout/

I think he is right as to the specific issue of the web blackout. I would add one other feature, the widespread general disgust with getting blown off by elected officials and the MPAA. But the fact that this most extreme (and desperate) of tactics is unlikely to be repeated does not make this a one off and we return entirely to business as usual.