Nov 182011

It’s been fascinating this week to read coverage of congressional hearings around the SOPA bill, or Stop Online Privacy Act. The bill has strong support from the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and big pharmaceutical companies. It’s opposed by most technology and telecom companies, plus consumer advocate groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge. Here’s some recent coverage:

Cecilia Kang of the Post

Declan McCullagh of CNET

Zack Whittaker of ZDNet

I wrote about the Senate version of this bill, PROTECT IP, back in July. Some very smart people have pointed out how so-called “DNS filtering” won’t stop access to pirated content online, but is a very dangerous precedent for how the Internet operates. It would also hamper the adoption of DNSSEC, which will improve online security.

What’s really interesting this week is how the tech giants are taking the message directly to the people. There’s a well known term in Washington called Astroturfing, in which a corporate or political campaign is made to appear like a spontaneous, grass-roots movement.

With the ubiquity of some of the consumer services provided by the tech giants, they have the ability to create a “real” Astroturf effort. Check out the Mozilla start page today, seen by millions daily (click to enlarge):

Which leads to this:

Other organizations are doing similar online messaging. Let’s consider this from a high level not mentioned by the reporters above. One could view this policy struggle as a battle between big companies that charge consumer money for things – songs, movies, goods – vs. big companies that give consumers services for for free -search, news, games, telephony. (Put aside for a moment these free services are paid for by an advertising model that requires harvesting information about the actions of users online.)

Considering that, can these efforts generate enough heat to make Congress back down? Was this 11th hour outreach the plan all along, or is this a Hail Mary since the more old school lobbying tactics of the pro-SOPA crowd seem to be working?

I’d love to know how many thousands of Americans are clicking on the Take Action Now! button right now.

UPDATE 1/18/12: I’m quoted in this 1/13 piece on SOPA from the E-Commerce Times. And here’s the video that was distributed today, the online blackout protest day by

[vimeo w=640&h=360]

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