Was Winning on SOPA Bad for Tech?

on June 6, 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.