After last Wednesday’s web-wide blackout spearheaded by Wikipedia and Reddit, legislators in both houses of Congress decided to postpone decisions on two controversial pieces of legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Technology companies including Google and Facebook strongly opposed both bills while the movie and recording industries lobbied fiercely for them, with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) contending that passing them was vital to combating online piracy of movies and music.
Some in the tech community proclaimed victory. Both the House and the Senate are still considering anti-piracy legislation and attempts to regulate the internet are far from over. Even more, as Timothy B. Lee writes on Ars Technica, a “striking trend” emerged in Congress’s reaction to the blackout: At least 16 Republican Senators announced their opposition to PIPA last Wednesday, while only three Democrats did.
Democrats and Hollywood Money
The president of the MPAA, former Senator Chris Dodd, has said that Democrats cannot count on Hollywood’s financial backing if they oppose SOPA and PIPA.
“Candidly, those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”
Notes California Watch:
Among the biggest recipients of Hollywood money are Californian members of Congress who remain supportive of the controversial anti-piracy bills. Eight Californians in the House of Representatives, as well as Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, co-sponsored the bills, representing more co-sponsors than from any other state.
Boxer was the top Senate recipient of campaign contributions from the movie production industry over the last six years, picking up nearly $413,000, according to data compiled by MapLight.org and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, an early co-sponsor of SOPA, received $106,500 in the last two years in contributions from the movie industry; his Los Angeles district includes the famous Hollywood sign. Other Californian co-sponsors of anti-piracy legislation in the House have received significant sums from the movie industry: Los Angeles-area Democrats Karen Bass, Brad Sherman and Adam Schiff received nearly $30,000, $23,000 and around $19,000, respectively. Palm Springs Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack has received almost $22,000 over two years and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein about $146,000 over six years.
The GOP and SOPA
Lee of Ars Technica spoke to Reihan Salam, a blogger at National Review and a policy advisor at a conservative think thank, Economics 21, and also conservative political strategist Patrick Ruffini. According to Salam and Ruffini,
Democrats have deep ties to Hollywood and to labor unions who staff Hollywood productions, which makes it hard for them to buck these interests and vote against PIPA. In contrast, they said, Republicans have few ties to groups that support PIPA, and they have a Tea Party faction that has grown increasingly invested in Internet freedom as it has become more reliant on the web for its own organization.
Both Salam and Ruffini emphasized that that they think that “Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture is a perfect fit for the GOP’s free-market policy agenda” and that the fight over online piracy legislation is a “golden opportunity for the GOP to build a lasting political alliance” with tech interests.
Notably, conservative Republican Darrell Issa of California is an opponent of SOPA and also, along with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the sponsor of a related bill, the OPEN ACT. This bill would make the International Trade Commission rather than the DOJ the enforcer for online piracy and also offers a narrower version of pirate websites.
Conservatives’ “general suspicion of big government” is indeed reflected in the arguments made against both SOPA and PIPA. Lee points out that the Tea Party is itself a “decentralized movement organized largely online” which, accordingly, has a huge interest in keeping the internet as unregulated as possible. Republican philosophy and the belief in the free market both align ”naturally .. with the creative destruction that is a hallmark of the technology industry,” as Ruffini argues.
Is the opposition against SOPA and PIPA the harbinger of a new alliance between the GOP and the tech industry?
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