Feeds

SOPA poked an angry bear and set it loose on the net

Free Ride author Rob Levine on copyright and Wikipedia

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Interview I'm not defending greedy bastard corporations, says author Rob Levine, and you don't have to either. But we need something better than a broken digital economy.

Published last year, Levine's book Free Ride seemed acutely well-timed. Online discussions about digital copyright are now so cliched, an artificially intelligent robot could provide 95 per cent of arguments. The book thrust a spike through the idea that noble internet "innovators" were being thwarted by evil copyright holders. The world isn't so childishly simple, he argued. The world needs both.

But since then we've had the SOPA protests given global media coverage by the Wikipedia blackout, and the web lobby looks triumphant. I caught up with Rob this week to ask him what he thought has changed.

So Rob, what has the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) changed?

"SOPA has changed a lot. SOPA was a massive, massive miscalculation by the entertainment business that permanently changed the narrative. The main narrative has been 'greedy record companies versus internet pioneers'. I think that's bullshit, I think it's one group of people with rights versus another group of people with rights - and it's one group of greedy companies versus another group of greedy companies.

"I don't see it as good against evil, either; I don't think Google is evil, it's just a big company trying to screw up other big companies - just like other big companies are trying to screw them. After SOPA that narrative is now much worse - it's about 'who's going to break the internet'.

"I thought SOPA was problematic - it was hard to figure out what it would actually do. I'm kidding a little here, but I don't know how a government should ever pass a 175-page bill that a reasonably intelligent person can't understand."

That's the Tax Code gone then, mate. Wha-hey!

"Hey, I would probably favour a higher tax rate than you would, but I wouldn't favour a tax rate that's incomprehensible."

Fair enough...

"So with SOPA we had a rerun of Obamacare, and people projected the worst things they could think of onto it. People came to the wrong conclusions - and the wrong conclusions were pushed onto them.

"SOPA wasn't as bad as some people made it out to be, but because it was so convoluted, it became very hard to defend because so much of it was confusing."

So what's changed exactly?

"Well I think there was so much anger against it that now there's anger against everything. For example, if you read ACTA, it's not that big a deal. But ACTA is presented as the Treaty of SOPA. If you read ACTA there is nothing in it that's anything like what people said about SOPA. It's not that big a deal and I'm not sure it will help the entertainment industry as much as the entertainment industry likes to think."

Well, there's nothing in it for them, really

"I'm not sure. I don't understand the treaty world but I do know when you see massive demonstrations about something that's relatively not a big deal - it means the world has changed.

"A lot of what people say about ACTA is absolutely untrue. People say it's negotiated in private. Well, it's a trade treaty. People say it favours the countries that negotiated it. Well, again, it's a treaty. You know, these are all fundamental characteristics of trade treaties. There's not a lot of negotiation with citizen groups when trade treaties are being written - that comes later.

"There was this great video on YouTube of how if you share a chicken recipe you could be criminally liable for the chicken.

ACTA would criminalise telling your wife a chicken recipe - according to this Anonymous video

"What's it mean to be 'criminally liable for a chicken'? And recipes, obviously, aren't covered by copyright. It's a lot of overstatement.

"A lot of people said: 'We turned GoDaddy. GoDaddy's not backing the bill.' But they didn't convince [domain registrar] GoDaddy that SOPA was a bad idea, or that GoDaddy was wrong - they let it be known that GoDaddy's business future was bleak unless they made a specific public statement, and so GoDaddy made that public statement. GoDaddy thought: 'Let's put out something that appeases the mob with torches and pitchforks.' That's a certain kind of democracy - but it's also fear of the mob.

"The same thing's happening in Canada with a bill that's the Canadian version of the DMCA. There's a storm of anger, and that anger's not going away. I don't think that anger has much to do with the entertainment business - a lot of that is about the time we're in. I think that anger is partly because of Goldman Sachs, and partly because of the Euro crisis, and partly for all these other reasons. If you look at countries where the economy's in bad shape they're sick of being pushed around by the French and the Germans.

Right now we have copyright that lasts almost forever, covers too much, and it's not effective

"Some people say it's because of the excess of Hollywood and the music companies. There's something to that. But even if you think record companies are horrible greedy bastards - and there's something to that too - then how does that affect my rights as an author? And how does it affect their rights?"

I think your book is quite clear on whether you're defending this record industry, or whether you're defending the idea of an industry for music. Or any kind of cultural work. People who support stripping rights as a punishment for somebody's past sins need to come up with something that rewards people better, and so far they've completely failed to do that.

"I'm defending commerce: the idea that there's a market for culture is something worth defending. I think there should be competition. If record companies are bad and inefficient they should face competition from companies that are efficient. But that's not what's happening."

Do you think the SOPA protest will make a lasting difference, though? I wrote at the time [and so did Matt Asay] that you need intellectual property. All those copyright industries not going to go away. It's going to come back every year, because so far the antis have never seen an enforcement measure they can live with. So I asked: "Do you really want to do this every year - this weird annual ritual? Is that all there is on your political horizon, saying 'no'?"

"SOPA was a bigger deal. SOPA poked the bear. The entertainment companies were very successful at lobbying and they were spending a relatively large amount of money on it. Google is now spending a lot of money on lobbying, and now money is pouring into Washington from all kinds of technology businesses. That's going to change things.

"The entertainment lobbyists' outside game wasn't good, but their inside game was great. I didn't think they had an outside game at all, and weren't prepared to explain what they were doing.

"Google is ramping up its game. If you're outspent in Washington, and out-propaganda'd online, you're in a much worse position than you were before.

"Now they're saying: 'We're going to reach a consensus position on this with Google.' Well, Google is not a company that's very interested in consensus. It's a much more ideological company."

I don't see the same thing in the UK, to be honest. I see two things. One is that Hargreaves and the IPO have united parts of the copyright industries against a common enemy, and these parts are far more used to fighting each other. That's something you don't see very often. They view themselves as fairly successful sectors that are inexplicably under attack from their own government, and their own bureaucracy.

"That's interesting. One of the things the technology industry has has done well is present a united front. In Canada, there's a lot of bad blood between the writers and the publishers, for example. Or between artists and labels. You've got artists talking down their labels - sometimes with good reason. But if one company is paying you less than you deserve - but the other company wants to pay you nothing, you might want to settle some of your differences in private, and others in public."

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Alphadex fires back at British Gas with overcharging allegation
Brit colo outfit says it paid for 347KVA, has been charged for 1940KVA
Jack the RIPA: Blighty cops ignore law, retain innocents' comms data
Prime minister: Nothing to see here, go about your business
Banks slap Olympus with £160 MEEELLION lawsuit
Scandal hit camera maker just can't shake off its past
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.