Remember social studies class in high school, when you learn about how there are three branches of government that balance against each other, and one of those is the legislative branch which is supposed to represent the will of the people (originally the will of the people and the states, but you know what I mean). If anything should show us just how perverted this system has become, it should be the difference in the support in Congress for the Stop Online Piracy Act vs. the actual support among the various congressional constituencies.
Let’s start with the rationale for supporting SOPA. Why do it? DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the most prominent supporters of the bill and its highest-ranking Democrat sponsor in the House, thinks that we need the bill in order to “protect Americans from companies that profit by stealing and repackaging other people’s work.” Ahh yes. We need to deprive Americans of an important freedom in order to protect them from a vaguely-stated threat. Where have I heard that sort of talk before…?
Well, okay. The congresswoman (and others like her) say that they support (or supported until they realized it was unpopular) this bill because it protects Americans. Let’s start with the (false) assumption that members of congress are generally good and honest people. Certainly we shouldn’t just automatically disbelieve anything they say, right? Perhaps there is evidence that suggests another, more concrete reason that Wasserman and her compatriots support this bill.
In general, SOPA is supported by the media industry and disliked by the tech industry. The bill and its senate counterpart would give much more intellectual property protection to established media giants while making it much harder for tech businesses to grow and innovate on the internet. Perhaps we should follow the money trail and see what kind of donations members of congress are getting from these two groups.
Since I’m already picking on Congresswoman Wasserman, let’s start with her. All of the data that I am about to cite I got from here.
Let’s begin with the raw amount of money given to Wasserman in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles from each of these industries. From the tech industry, Wasserman received a combined total of $46,483. Granted, that’s no small change. However, from the media industry she received $108,500 during the same period, as you can see below.
Not only that, but there was a massive increase in the money given from the media industry during this period, an increase from $37,900 in 2008 to $70,600 in 2010. As you can see in my technically astounding graphic below, there was a slight decrease in donations from the tech industry during the same period. (Please note that if you steal my graphic I will lobby for the passage of SOPA and then track you down and ensure that you are prosecuted to the full extent of the law).
While the massive increase in donations doesn’t necessarily prove anything (remember, correlation ≠ causation), it is an interesting correlative with the fact that the 2010 campaign season was the last one for Wasserman before SOPA began its track through the House.
Clearly, Wasserman isn’t the only member of Congress receiving mass amounts of money from the media industry about whom we might be concerned. In fact, sponsors of SOPA pulled in four times as much in contributions from the media industry as from the tech industry during the 2010 election cycle.
And this isn’t just a Democrat or Republican issue either. Apparently it’s cool for all the kids in Congress to support stifling the internet:
For instance, Republican Lamar Smith of Texas, the Judiciary chairman and lead sponsor of the bill, got $133,050 from the media industry in the two years preceding July 1, according to Maplight. The tech industry has given him $59, 250. His top corporate supporter is Clear Channel Communications, which gave him $26,850. Time Warner Cable (TWC) gave $13,000. (Time Warner ownsFortune.) The National Cable Television Association contributed $16,000. Of his top 10 contributors, four are from the media industry. Smith said recently, “The Stop Online Piracy Act protects the profits, products and jobs that rightly belong to American innovators.” (Is the order of those priorities a coincidence?)
Democrat Howard Berman, whose district encompasses Hollywood, got $328,400 from media, and $102,103 from tech and Internet companies. His top contributor was the Directors Guild of America, which gave him $26,899. Five of Berman’s top 10 contributors belong to the media industry. Two more are law firms — Akin Gump and Ziffren Brittenham — that represent media companies. There is just one tech firm among those 10 — Oracle (ORCL), which gave him $17,700. That’s more than the $16,500 he got from Time Warner (TWX), and less than he got from Disney (DIS), which gave him $24,750.
Of course, this does’t necessarily mean that memebers of Congress are completely purchased by media companies. However, we would be foolish to not be troubled by this trend.
So what do we do? One solution is simply to protest, and it has worked quite well. In response to events like the wikipedia blackout, many former supporters of SOPA, including President Obama, have withdrawn their support.
A small group called “We The Lobby” is trying to take the fight to Congress by hiring anti-SOPA lobbyists on behalf of common Americans to fight the lobbyists that media corporations have in Washington. While I cannot speculate at the moment on the potential success of their effort, it will be an interesting one to watch.