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  (Source: Tristar Pictures)
Lobbyist bribery goes to waste for once, as Rep. Smith is forced to "postpone" SOPA indefinitely

UPDATE: PIPA is "dead"/postponed too... details at the end of the piece.

Over the weekend U.S. President Barack Obama's (D) cabinet hinted that he might veto the pending House's "Stop Online Piracy Act" (SOPA) (H.R. 3261) and Senate's "PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) (S.968) out of concern that the bills Orwellian takedown provisions could damage the legitimate internet economy.  

I. The Rat Returns

With the support of politically enemy-turned-friend House Oversight Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Eric Cantor(R-Virg.) was compelled to promise to shelve any potential vote in the Republican-controlled House in terms of passing SOPA.  It was finally over -- the months of populist protest online, media criticism, and criticism from the online industry's top innovators like Google Inc. (GOOG) had paid off.  They had won.

Or so they thought.  On Monday support SOPA rose up from the dead, after Rep. Lamar Smith (R- Tex.) -- the bill's author in the House of Representatives -- said he would bring the bill to the floor for minor revisions and a February vote.  That led to the largest online protest that America has ever seen with tens of millions of Americans taking to the internet to post protest message, email their representatives, call their representatives, and sign petitions.

The bold populist outcry seemed to work.  First some Congresspeople jumped ship.  Then more did.

But even yesterday Rep. Smith -- whose office had done its fair share of copyright infringing -- was quoted as dismissing his constituents protest as a "publicity stunt" and vowing to ignore the people and bring the bill to vote.

II. Cornered, SOPA Meets Its End (For Now)

But on Friday afternoon a weay Rep. Smith took to the internet, tail tucked and admitted defeat, agreeing for the first time to shelve the bill.  The key word is he used is "postponed".  So it's fair to say SOPA is dead, but if you've ever played Resident Evil or watched South Park SOPA is a bit like Wesker or Kenny -- it may be dead -- but it will likely return next episode.

Rep. Smith ears shut
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has finally listened after purposefully ignoring the criticism about SOPA for so long. [Image Source: Know Your Meme]

In his statement Rep. Smith writes:

The problem of online piracy is too big to ignore. American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs.  Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

The online theft of American intellectual property is no different than the theft of products from a store.  It is illegal and the law should be enforced both in the store and online.

The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property.  We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem.  The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.

The numbers are debatable, but Rep. Smith is right on one key issue -- online piracy is an issue that needs to be addressed in some form.  Whether it should be big media finding easier ways to distribute content legally online, such as challenging Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) exclusivity contracts and bullying, which limit the number of legal distribution outlets, or the government finding a way to balance the rights of intellectual property holders with the people's right to reasonable justice, there's certainly cause to look for level-handed solutions in the public and private sector.

But at the same time Rep. Smith's statement is problematic as it couples two very different issues -- domestic piracy (sharing copyrighted works illegally via torrents, P2P, streaming, etc.) and foreign piracy.  

Foreign piracy is already a vast sea to navigate on, as it includes everything from stealing proprietary chipmaking technique from American fabs or engine part design from American fighter jets to your everyday bazaar merchant selling phony DVD copies of popular American films.  These kinds of abuses needs to be addressed, but in recent years Congress and the White House have essentially meekly bowed to China -- arguably the biggest single infringer of American goods -- afraid to speak up against it.

So when Rep. Lamar Smith talks about fighting foreign piracy, that's great but SOPA and Congress's past actions have done scant little to challenge infringer nations like China.  What they have done a whole lot to impose Orwellian takedown on the internet and punitive punishment on the American people.

III. Federal Bribery Must be Stopped

All of the piracy debate also overshadows a far greater base issue -- the allowance of blatant bribery in American federal politics.

Anti-streaming lobbyists paid an estimated 10 percent of all active U.S. Senators' combined election costs ($86M USD) and an unspecified amount (like in the high tens to low hundreds of millions of dollars) to the U.S. Congress, according to extensive research.  It's nice to see this kind of blatant bribery attempt fail for once.

But the real issue here is that if the bribery was smaller and the "bought" legislation didn't involve dramatic erosions of rights and free enterprise that SOPA did, the American people probably would have ignored it -- in fact that's what they been doing for a good couple decades now, as lobbying has grown into a flourishing mega-industry in the capital.

bribery pays
It's hard to get anything done in Washington these days without a bribe.
[Image Source: Google Images]

The end result is that while the American taxpayer and small business labor slavishly to pay their tax debt, the corporations with well-heeled lobbyists enjoy "tax holidays" and government grants.  These are kickbacks for bribes, plain as day, but politicians pretty them up with softer speak.

A recent peer-reviewed research study by the University of Kansas' business school showed that for every $1 spent bribing politicians in Washington D.C., corporate donors get an estimated $222 USD in tax exemptions and other financial kickbacks.  This bribery must be recognized and must be put to an end.  It is anti-innovation.  It is anti-freedom.  It is anti-American.

It is a huge problem that Americans must address, as they look back on their victory over SOPA and big media special interests.


PIPA, written by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (very similar to the House's Republican-written SOPA) is also dead or delayed ("postponed").  In a press release Sen. Reid echoes the words of his Republican colleague, Rep. Smith, writing:

In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act.

There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.

I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet. We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.

The only major difference between Sen. Reid's and Sen. Smith's commentary seems to be little tidbits of party-appropriate rhetoric, designed to pander to their base's sensibilities.

Sen. Reid's uses a "union" analogy, in an effort to sway Democrat voters, while Sen. Smith's focus on "foreign" threats and his vow to "work with... financial institutions" buzz words he clearly hopes will please his voters.

Sources: Lamar Smith, Harry Reid, NPR [$1 lobbyist = $222 tax breaks]

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RE: Here here
By JasonMick on 1/20/2012 5:44:44 PM , Rating: 3
So we're exclusively blaming "the corporations" for everything that's ever gone wrong with our Government and society at large? How convenient. You're taking the Obama rhetoric and cranking it up to 11, I see. You realize you're dictating that we make corporations and employees second class citizens, right?

Not that I'm against your idea exactly, but if it's gotten to the point that we have to cut our Constitution in half and split the country up between "us" and the "corporations", just because our elected officials have no integrity, I'm wondering what's the point? Might as well give up if things are that bad.

You're trying to make a radical idea, that would effect virtually thousands of laws and statutes and require millions more pages of legislation, sound so simple and neat. Simply making an Amendment (and I would like to see how these same people would possibly PASS such a thing) can't be all there is to it. I would like to know the real meat and potatoes of how we legislate this. Not to mention actually enforce it. It doesn't stop under the table bribery, which is what would probably just happen anyway.

Reclaimer, the idea he mentioned isn't so radical... it's in fact INCREDIBLY simple.

(... to legislate, a bit tougher to enforce...)

People could still work for corporations and donate, just the corporation themselves couldn't directly donate, funnel money through lobbyists, or ask employees to donate (a separation of corporation and gov't).

It's quite a simple, easy, and practical idea.

Most of the money politicians run on today in the U.S. is from corporations so obviously:
a) They will oppose the op's suggestion.
b) They will be marginally interested -- at best -- in helping their constituents as their true "boss" is the corporations and special interests groups which paid their way into office.

The clear solution is for the people to vote these people out and continue to vote out each and every elected official that takes this money until a nominee is finally selected who did not take any bribes and practices full disclosure. Better yet, when possible, Congress people who accepted bribes/corporate donations should be recalled, as there's laws to do so.

His idea is hardly "radical", aside from the fact that system is currently so f'ed up. It's common sense.

The way things stand right now, the special interests/corporations own the government, which is really no different than what you see in a communist dictatorship where the government owns the corporations. Either way you have a small elite group in control and looking to consolidate their wealth while not carrying about the good of your or I.

you're dictating that we make corporations...second class citizens, right?

Wait???!?!?!? Since when were corporations a "citizen".

Last I checked, like the op said the government should not take control of businesses and the businesses should not take control of government.

I know, I know Reclaimer. I actually enjoy your commentary and I know what you will say "Yes, but there's now way any of them will ever vote for that! They've been doing that since forever! Things will never change!"

Well, my friend, I say you have to have a good mix of optimism and action... that's why I make a point of writing about these issues where science and technology meets politics -- particularly in the case of representation and freedoms. And I try to keep an open mind to all the comments you readers give me.

If you're pessimistic I understand your feelings. But I think with education and the erosion of public apathy (look @ European countries like Sweden or Germany where people are much more politically knowledgeable and involved), the system will eventually be forced to change. You can be part of that change or you can wait there feeling sorry for yourself because the current situation stinks.

RE: Here here
By Reclaimer77 on 1/20/2012 5:57:55 PM , Rating: 1
There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.

RE: Here here
By TerranMagistrate on 1/21/2012 2:14:31 PM , Rating: 2
What we do in life... echoes in eternity.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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