Meet the New Boss

Talk about your clash of the titans. King Kong vs. Godzilla had nothing on the battle that played out in January over the U.S. House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property (Protect IP) Act. In this case, the dueling mutant monsters were Hollywood (the film and music industry) vs. Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook, et al.). And Silicon Valley was the easy winner, with a really big assist from its customers, the screen- and gadget-obsessed American public. Google put that famous black banner over their logo, and suddenly Congress was buried under an avalanche of angry citizen phone calls.

Make no mistake about it, SOPA and Protect IP needed killing. Among other things, they targeted so-called “rogue” foreign websites with sweeping sanctions that could have swept up lots of legitimate web activity. For example, SOPA placed prohibitions on encryption that would have outlawed software the U.S. State Department has developed to assist dissidents in countries that try to control the Internet activity of their citizens. The tech news website CNET called the law “an Internet death penalty” for allegedly-offending sites.

The offense these rogues commit is, of course, providing a vehicle for free transmission of copyrighted material. That’s certainly wrong and against the law and everything. But so is illegal immigration, and even Mitt Romney has had to concede the impracticality of expelling 12 million people. What these bills represented, even more than a threat to free speech, was the death rattle of the old entertainment industry.

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