Are Internet companies using us to fight against SOPA?

Like many of my colleagues I oppose to SOPA and PIPA. I have been a proponent of Free Culture for many years (which I know is funny to say next to the Microsoft logo) and I have studied young people’s perceptions of intellectual property because I find the topic fascinating and extremely important. However, there is a lingering thought that grew out of conversations with my friend Benjamin Mako Hill back when net neutrality was the debate du jour. Basically I can’t stop wondering if companies are just using us to fight these debates.

It seems to me that lot of these tech debates are fights between companies with opposing business models: in the case of Net Neutrality it is Internet companies vs telcos, in the case of SOPA/PIPA it is media companies vs Internet companies. However, both of these debates are often framed as it they were “the people” vs the evil companies and their lawmakers. I suspect that at some point the interests of the same Internet companies we are indirectly helping today will no longer be in the best interest of the rest of us. What will we do then? What will happen when it is oil companies asking for support against weapons companies? Will we always need to find opposing companies that can help us fight back? 

2 thoughts on “Are Internet companies using us to fight against SOPA?

  1. Mina

    Good point. Being aware of which companies have shared interests and how they may steer or shape public perception is key to the people being dominant (or at least having some independent part) in the relationship as opposed to the corporation being dominant.

    Ultimately, from the perspective of someone who has worked within government, money talks and a poorly informed aggressive lobbyist will get lots of attention, while an individual with political beliefs will come across as crazy and be ignored to the greatest extent possible if they are trying to make a structural change as opposed to dealing with personal access to government services.

    Something to develop for the future is to look at the protections from liability for their actions that people running corporations get, and think how to organize groups of individuals and get similar protections (or perhaps to place more accountability on decision makers within corporations * ha *).

    Another way to work in this world is to look at the rhetoric used to steer people, and break down that rhetoric. So, in the copyright context, using “stealing” to describe copying gets a stronger reaction than does “copying”. Tons of people have said this before, but just that background awareness that you maybe are being used can often help to break down and understand how you are possibly choosing to partner versus how you are being used and even deceived.

  2. I’ve been thinking a bunch of the same things, Andres. Thanks for a great blog post. The congressmen and women who have postponed the discussion have said they are going to be working with “both sides” to work out a compromise that they can live with.

    Of course, nobody believes that congress is going to be working with the Wikipedia editors who decided to shutdown the site, or Reddit users, or folks from Fight for the Future. They’re going to turn around and work with Google, and Facebook, and the other big Internet companies.

    And you know what: they probably will come to compromise that Google and Facebook can live with. I’m much less confident that it will be in the interests of all the random folks who shutdown their websites to help bring the pressure that earned the big tech companies a seat at the table.

    I hope I’m just being pessimistic. But if I’m right, I’m going to feel like me and my friends were just of just tools.

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