Ten Years Gone: Hollywood vs the Web


SOPA and PIPA may be bad news, but they aren't really fresh news.

Back in 2002, the equation already had been worked out: Hollywood money + Congressional cluelessness = flawed legislation

The issue at that time was a bill aimed at curbing P2P piracy, supported by lawmakers who seemed oblivious to the harm the law could have unleashed.

One of the major players then was Howard Coble, the popular Representative from North Carolina's 6th district, in which, depending on the gerrymandering du jour, I sometimes live. One of the co-sponsors of the present Senate bill is Kay Hagan, who also comes from Greensboro. Something in the water, maybe.

Beyond the quick history lesson on the power of the copyright industry over Congress, what jumps out at me from blog posts I wrote on this issue almost 10 years ago is how some then-emergent aspects of social media (as we didn't yet call it) have become realities over the past decade (here's a post that includes a newspaper column I wrote on the topic for the News & Record).

One reality is the use of the web in politics. Back in '02, long before the Howard Dean campaign, it was a big deal for a candidate just to have a blog. We've come a long way, baby.

Another is the understanding of online networking as a means of shaping public opinion. As Dan Gillmor wrote (I can't find the original at the Mercury News site; curse you, linkrot): "Industries have learned to put their dollars in the hands of people who can repay the largesse through legislation and other favors. Now, people on another kind of network -- the Internet -- have found a way to challenge Coble."

These days, says the New York Times, the network effect is a given: "It is unclear that companies like Facebook and Google, left to themselves, could have swayed members of Congress or the White House without using the Internet to marshal opposition from technologists, entrepreneurs and computer-adept consumers. Opposition came from a vast spectrum..."

Finally, the idea that local blogs covering local issues could make a difference at home and on a broader scale, now a commonplace, was not widely understood at that time.

So here we are again, but ten years gone have changed some things for the better. Congress is much the same, unfortunately, yet the power of people to react to it is much enhanced. SOPA and PIPA are headline stories, not confined to tech publications and the geeky hinterlands of the web -- and the tide is turning against them.