The proposed legislation coming from the US to combat online piracy known as SOPA has not been popular among internet industry professionals or internet users.
The debate surrounding the legislation heated up considerably in the runup to Christmas and there is now a planned “blackout” being organised by several high profile content providers.
In a rather interesting and slightly amusing move senior Whitehouse staff, including Victoria Espinel, have made a public statement on the proposed legislation and what they (now) view as being acceptable.
By way of disclosure I should point out that I have a small bit of inside information.
Last year Whitehouse staff had meetings with ICANN accredited registrars and registries in Washington DC and 24 hours later in Brussels. While the meeting in DC involved a reasonably sized group of people, the one in Brussels involved 2 registrars and three US officials. I was one of the two registrars at the meeting.
It was very clear from speaking to Ms Espinel and her colleagues that they were very interested in pursuing measures like those outlined in SOPA. What was also clear was that they were contemplating taking whatever measures necessary to achieve their goals. But what was also very clear was that their primary and only interest was that of the US. They didn’t really understand the true cross-border and complexities of the Internet and that “policing” content and who has access to it is far from easy and is technically complex and problematic.
Their statement at the end of last week, taken in light of that conversation, is intriguing and is, unfortunately, being misinterpreted by many of those writing on the subject.
My reading of the statement is probably a little different and quite possibly more than a little cynical.
Let’s put this into perspective.
A lot of the Whitehouse senior staff are going to be looking for jobs if their current boss does not get an second term. They’re working in a political sphere, so the public’s opinion, which can translate into votes, is not something that they can ignore completely.
Over the past year the Whitehouse’s Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, which is headed by Ms Espinel, has been working hard on doing pretty much everything that SOPA is aimed to do. Coincidence? Of course not. The two are closely linked.
The statement recognises that the current version of SOPA is flawed in several areas and that those issues need to be addressed. It does not mean that the Whitehouse has any issues with what SOPA is trying to do.
I’d read the statement more as a reaction to the public’s outcry.
The reality is that even if SOPA does not get passed something else probably will, or at least will be tabled.
We live in interesting times.
- White House on SOPA: Protecting Intellectual Property Must Not Threaten Open, Innovative Internet (circleid.com)
- SOPA Could Shutter Registrars and other Domain Name Industry Intermediaries (circleid.com)