Victory on SOPA: Lessons Learned
by Gary North: Auditing
the FED's Gold
we feel the heat, we see the light." ~ Senator Everett Dirksen
January 18, the forces of liberty gained a major political victory
over the entrenched meddlers in Congress. The owners of a handful
of popular Internet sites joined together to protest SOPA/PIPA.
They blacked out their sites and provided information on the threat
to Internet liberty this bill posed.
day was over, a majority of our elected representatives were doing
a superb imitation of the captain of the grounded Italian cruise
ship. They abandoned ship as fast as he did, and for the same reason.
(Note: the reason was not that they had slipped and fallen into
the lifeboat, then to be carried to safety against their will.)
A few weeks
before, the Senate version of the House's SOPA (Stop Online Piracy
ACT) bill, called PIPA, was unanimously passed by the Senate Judiciary
Committee. PIPA stands for the Protect IP [Intellectual Property]
Act. It was non-controversial at the time. It was on a well-greased
skid to passage.
Let us not
be naive. SOPA/PIPA is a payback for to the entertainment industry's
generous support of PACs and campaign donations. For a list of who
got how much, click
Wyden (D-Oregon) did object. He was not on the committee. He vowed
to filibuster PIPA. So, Harry Reid announced that he would push
it through. He vowed to introduce a 60-vote cloture motion to limit
debate. Senator Reid said he would schedule the debate on January
24. There is a Website called Unanimous
Consent. It tracks the fast-track bills. Here was its assessment
on December 23.
IP has 40 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, which means that
it could easily clear procedural hurdles to its passage. At this
point, there is considerable momentum towards passage, but opponents
have effectively used the internet to direct outrage about the bill
towards Capitol Hill and organize opposition. The sooner supporters
move on the bill, the more likely it will pass. The later opponents
can push back the bill, the less likely it will pass. The more opponents
stall, the more Senators will feel uncomfortable with supporting
the bill and increase their support of an amendment or compromise.
While it is less likely to stop the bill outright, opponents can
significantly dilute the content of the bill or substitute a compromise
If you want
an overview of just how bad SOPA is, click
the coordinated guerrilla attack. Wikipedia shut down for a day.
Anyone searching for something got a one-page explanation of the
threat to Internet liberty posed by the bill.
of us who despise former Senator Dodd, of Dodd-Frank fame, the
following tirade is a delight to read. For us old timers, who
despised his father even more, it is sheer ecstasy.
a Tuesday statement, Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion
Picture Association of America (MPAA) and a former Connecticut
senator said Web sites participating in the blackout are
"resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their
corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions
to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging."
. . .
"It is an
irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on
[these sites] for information and use their services. It is also
an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in
the marketplace today."
Wednesday. The protest began early in the morning. It accelerated
all day. One of my site members posted on a forum that the Senate's
Website had gone down. He could not contact his Senator. The traffic
overwhelmed the site. The New York Times describes what happened
through the day.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to
Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce
a bill he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads
the G.O.P.'s Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his
colleagues to slow the bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican
of South Carolina and a Tea Party favorite, announced his opposition
on Twitter, which was already boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA
Then trickle turned
to flood adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Roy Blunt
of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben Quayle
of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House
members announced their opposition. The Good Old Boys learned that
they cannot conduct business as usual any longer not when Internet
autonomy is concerned. The Internet can mobilize millions of voters
in hours. The Good Old Boys had not yet figured this out on Tuesday.
They are slow learners. The Times continued:
for all the campaign contributions, Washington parties and high-priced
lobbyists the old economy could muster, nothing could compare to
the tentacles the new economy can reach into Americans' everyday
lives through sites like Wikipedia. Aides to Senator Harry Reid,
the majority leader, say he will press forward with a vote Tuesday
to open debate on the Protect I.P. bill. Negotiators from both parties
are scrambling for new language that could assuage the concerns
of the Internet community, but expectations are that the bill will
now fail to get the 60 votes to move forward a significant
cry of despair from the movie-record industry complex.
problem for the content industry is they just don't know how to
mobilize people," said John P. Feehery, a former House Republican
leadership aide who previously worked at the motion picture association.
"They have a small group of content makers, a few unions, whereas
the Internet world, the social media world especially, can reach
people in ways we never dreamed of before."
He's got it!
And, by the end of the day on Wednesday, so had Congress.
Techdirt site had it right.
the blackouts were just a "publicity stunt" that didn't wake up
the American people to a serious problem with the legislative process?
Wikipedia has now revealed that an astounding eight million people
used its tool to look up their elected officials' contact info.
It's not yet clear how many actually called, but some information
on calls is starting to come out, and it sure sounds like a lot
of people called. We heard from multiple Senate staffers that the
phones both in DC and back home in the district offices
were ringing non-stop with complaints about the bill. Our own calling
widget, care of Engine Advocacy, got a tremendous amount of usage
including over 2,000 phone calls per minute at peak calling
times. Meanwhile, Google's online petition scored 4.5 million signatures...
and that's the number that was reported earlier in the day. I'm
sure it was higher by the end of the day. Anyone think this isn't
a mainstream issue yet? More importantly, can anyone explain why
various Senators still want to move forward with this bill?
hammered. This is an election year. Days before, officials with
the Obama Administration revealed that the President is concerned
about some of the site shut-down provisions in SOPA. The unstated
threat: a veto. President Obama is more tech-savvy than Congress.
media got him elected. He saw what was about to happen. He wisely
got out of the way. Congress
is huge," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "[Social
networks] pretty much drove the mass objections and stopped this
bill from becoming law. I think we are actually seeing the beginning
of a huge change in the political process worldwide that [has] social
networks at the core."
It began on
January 17, 1998 exactly 14 years prior to Chris Dodd's sneering
dismissal of what was about to happen the next day. It began with
a story on Bill Clinton and an unnamed intern. We
read on Wikipedia:
of the scandal first broke on January 17, 1998, on the Drudge Report
website, which reported that Newsweek editors were sitting on a
story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff exposing the affair.
The story broke in the mainstream press on January 21 in The
For four days,
the mainstream media dithered. They did not sense what was about
to happen to them. Then they reported the story. Matt Drudge, a
nobody, had forced their hand.
Drudge Report has 145 million hits a month, evenly distributed between
American and foreign.
This is reported here. In contrast, Newsweek was sold
by the Washington Post in 2010 for
one dollar. Its debts huge came with it. It merged
with the Daily Beast, and
it is dragging down the DB's profits.
a political conservative. In contrast, DailyBeast/Newsweek
In June 1998,
six months after he tossed his hand grenade, Drudge spoke at the
National Press Club. In the weeks before his speech, he solicited
advice from his readers. I sent him a brief note. He replied. I
made this point. He had broken the control of the Establishment's
media gatekeepers. I told him that this was a milestone.
In his speech,
he said this. I quote a long section, for he threw down the gauntlet
to the reporters' closed club. He rubbed their noses in it. A new
world order in reporting had appeared, and he was its avatar.
a little corner in my Hollywood apartment, in the company of nothing
more than my 486 computer and my six six-toed cat, I have
consistently been able to break big stories, thanks to this network
of ordinary guys. The Drudge Report: first to the name the vice-presidential
nominee on the Republican ticket last election; first to announce
to an American audience that Princess Diana had tragically died;
first to sell tell the sad, sad story of Kathleen Willey;
first every weekend with box-office results that even studio executives,
some of them, admit they get from me. A new cable network is forming.
I was first to announce the unholy alliance between Microsoft and
I've written thousands of stories, started hundreds of news cycles.
My readers can follow earthquakes, weather patterns, read Frank
Rich on Saturday, Maureen Dowd on Sunday, from my site link to Bob
Novak on Monday; dozens of other media spectrum[s], from Molly Ivins;
track the world's news wires minute to minute.
And this is something new. This marks the first time that an individual
has access to the news wires outside of a newsroom. You get to read
all the news from the Associated Press, UPI, Reuters, to the more
the more arcane Agence France-Presse and the Chenois [phonetic].
I'm a personal fan of the Chenois Press.
And time was only newsrooms had access to the full pictures of the
day's events. But now any citizen does. We get to see the kinds
of cuts that are made for all kinds of reasons endless layers
of editors with endless agendas changing bits and pieces, so by
the time the newspaper hits your welcome mat it had no meaning.
Now with a modem, anyone can follow the world and report on the
world no middle man, no big brother. And I guess this changes
changed on the night of January 17th, when Newsweek spiked,
at the 11th hour, a well-researched, responsibly documented piece
about the President of the United States and an obscure White
House intern named Monica Lewinsky. After checking with multiple
sources, I ran a story about the killing of the story. According
to the Los Angeles Times, people familiar with the matter said
Clinton was informed Saturday night or Sunday morning The Drudge
Report had posted that Lewinsky was about to erupt. For four days
I had the story exclusively, and I took a lot of heat. Everyone
was afraid of it until the water broke...over at The Washington
Post that Wednesday, and then everyone jumped on it.
Now they love it too much, and I'm still taking the heat. "He's
one man out of control," a caller warned on talk radio in Los
Angeles. "There is such a built-in level of irresponsibility in
everything he does," cried First Amendment protector Floyd Abrams
in a page one Wall Street Journal piece. "The notion of
a Matt Drudge cyber gossip sitting next to William Safire on Meet
the Press would have been unthinkable," smacked Watergate's Carl
Bernstein in an op-ed.
And then, to
make his point perfectly clear, he
quoted the First Lady herself.
time an individual leaps so far ahead of that balance and throws
a system, whatever it might be political, economic, technological
out of balance, you've got a problem. It can lead to all
kinds of bad outcomes which we have seen historically."
the print media industry has been in a long decline. This will not
change. The Good Old Boys who listened to his speech are retired,
in a new line of work, dead, or struggling to make ends meet. They
would love to have Drudge's ad revenue for just one day per year.
It is fitting
that, on Wednesday, January 18, Drudge ran a
column on the suppression of a 2-hour interview that Newt Gingrich's
ex-wife gave to ABC news. ABC News has decided not to run it before
the South Carolina primary on the following Saturday. It was Newsweek
all over again! These people still think they can spike their
way though life, timing the release of news for political purposes.
But as soon as Drudge posted the story on Wednesday evening, they
backtracked. They decided to run it on Thursday night. They had
felt the heat, so they saw the light.
Year by year,
the networks' market share declines. Their influence wanes. As I
wrote to Drudge almost 14 years ago, the gatekeepers stand at the
gates, but the walls have collapsed.
The tide is
turning against all of the political Establishments on earth. A
year ago, the Internet brought down a tyrant in Tunisia. More followed.
The Web, the
social media, YouTube: they cannot be stopped. Ask Chris Dodd.
of engagement have changed. The bonehead Congressman who confiscated
the cell phones of his town hall audience could not keep the videos
off YouTube. Shortly after the video was posted, he backed down.
I wrote about this
here. These people are slow learners. Their old habits die hard.
But the Internet is educating them, one by one.
This is the wave of the future.
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2012 Gary North
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