Was Winning on SOPA Bad for Tech?

Steve Wildstrom / June 6th, 2012

I’ve spent a very interesting day at the Tech Policy Summit in Napa, but based on what I’ve heard, I’m beginning to think that the industry’s quick victory in killing the Stop Online Piracy Act this spring may be a long-term impediment to the industry’s agenda in Washington.

The problem is a lack of understanding of why tech won on SOPA or a sense that it was, in many ways, shooting fish in a barrel. The backers of SOPA made ridiculous mistakes. The bill was taken up after a single House committee hearing from which opponents of the bill were effectively excluded (one witness from Google was used as a sacrificial lamb.) Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) did not really understand his own bill and tried to force it through on a fast track, a move that served only to roil the opposition. On the opponents quickly seized on a line of attack that the bill would “break the internet.” This wasn ‘t exactly true, but supporters generally lacked the technical expertise to refute it.

These conditions will be very difficult to recreate. And getting things  you want passed is orders of magnitude harder than stopping things you oppose. It is going to take sustained struggle, not a SOPA-like quick hit, to win passage of important agenda items such as visa reform.

It’s entirely understandable that entrepreneurs are quickly disgusted by the stupidity and partisan pettiness of Washington politics. But their opponents have long since learned to put up with it, day in and day out. Until the leaders of tech can such it up for the long strugggle, they are going to wait a long time for another SOPA victory.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Amdazzler

    SOPA would have done more harm than good, and you can bet the hacks in Hollywood, or the government, would have abused the bill, what with its language being so broad and all. I know that fool Dodd is already getting ready to try again next year, but I’m hoping he’ll be met with the same resistance as before.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Chris Dodd is no fool. But MPAA did itself a lot of damage in the SOPA fight. A lot of its natural allies on Capitol Hill feel they got burned and knee-jerk support will be harder to come by the next time.

      That may be the biggest benefit of the win.

      • wulfcry

        Somehow I don’t think it will be focused on tech alone, seeming that tech as a fast growing sector makes room for creative innovation but changes older business models in a new fashion, Those who cant react faster on that tried to change and preserve it the faster they(??) thought to enact a bill the quicker to respond (business wise) to their particular problem. And it was done in a sleazy way which did not seem to be to them unethically with the nerve to propose and push it forward. I’m disgusted by the ease some think about a process its in a way that some think modern in an old fashioned way puzzling their way out instead of truly understanding their own merits.

  • vikp

    So where in this article does is say HOW the defeat of SOPA harmed Tech?

    And quite frankly, the general public may not know a ton about the fine points of SOPA, but when a giant benevolent organization like Wikipedia and a staple of daily life like Google come down hard and fighting against it, that does not instill confidence that the people in Washington have anyone’s best interests in mind.

    Beyond that, all the morons in Washington are technologically illiterate. They are not qualified to pass legislation on the internet. They shouldn’t even be dictating medical policy either, and a number of other things.

    • steve_wildstrom

      You’re reading too much into the headline.

      Killing SOPA didn’t hurt tech. It was a very bad law and would have done a lot of damage. My concern is that by misreading its own accomplishment, the folks who helped organize the death of SOPA are setting themselves up for future defeat. The fact is that killing SOPA was easy and other issues, such as the Startup 2.0 visa bill, will be much harder–and the industry would be better served if it understood why.

  • The issue is not some nebulous artificial construct you point at when you say tech. The issue is freedom.

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