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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 geddarkstorm on 1/20/2012 7:00:50 PM , Rating: 2
"You realize you're dictating that we make corporations and employees second class citizens, right?"

What do you mean? We are the ones who makes up corporations. How can you make every American a second class citizen to every American? Does "Separation of Church and State" make every church and religions person or clergyman a second class citizen?

And it's the -interplay- and intermingling of corporations with government that has caused quite a lot of trouble; not corporations in and of themselves in any form (they are part of capitalism, and again, they are made of us and where we do our work and get our paychecks for the most part). The repeal of Glass-Steagall, the demands by the feds for banks to give subprime mortgages that hurt them, the bailouts that encouraged companies to go underwater to get free funds from -our- pockets to line theirs; inflating our debt and fleecing our economy till it's been stuck on perpetually shaky ground (which rippled across the globe). And has not Obama been adding into this whole problem? No piece of legislation should ever be sponsored by a corporation in any way, yet so many are, such as SOPA/PIPA. It should be unconstitutional, just as any legislation being sponsored by a church is unconstitutional.

A corporation is not a "thing". It's just a bunch of people working under one umbrella (just like a church), making and selling products. There's nothing mystical or amazing about it. But it's geared specifically for maximizing profit, it has no regard for the populous as the government is supposed to be about. The two are at odds, and should never cross.

You can't stop under the table bribery of law enforcement agents either. But you do prosecute it, and seek explicitly to find it. Make it an issue and hunt it down, that's a check and a balance. What would you say if churches were trying to bribe and corrupt officials like corporations are doing, how do we already fight that as it's already unconstitutional?

And in truth, so many laws could be slashed, and so many more simplified--and should be, since over complication of laws and too many laws actually weaken the system and make it impossible to navigate let alone apply (this is why lobbyists do this on purpose, purposefully trying to get more regulations and complex laws on the books so nothing works and they can do whatever they want). But that's actually a -separate- issue, not the same thing as I'm talking about. And thinking that it is one and the same is a horrible obfuscation. Separating out direct interference of the government by corporations (or churches) is to ban interference in the form of knockbacks, bribery, agenda writing, legislation sponsorship, etc. How do we keep the church separate from the state? Is it some sort of mystical process that requires millions of pages of legislation?

If people all want to contribute to the campaign of some politician, and they all work at the same company, that doesn't matter, it's their individual right. But a company itself should not officially be able to take any of its -corporate- funds to contribute, as that puts the company's interests into politics, where it should never be (the same goes for churches already!). Influencing legislation and telling our representatives what to do, when its us and us alone they are elected (hired!) to listen to. Individuals who make up the corporation can put their collective will forward, but the corporation doing it of its own flips the system upside down. And the thing is, corporations didn't always have this ability to game the system as they do now, but since they have had it, things have only gotten worst and never better for us all. Look at corporations as if they were churches and you'll see how simple and obvious this whole issue is.

But that isn't even the worst part. The worst part is corporations are multi-national (like churches!). They don't have -American- interests at heart. They are, in essence, a foreign power. What would you say if Britain or Russia or Iran were sending millions to our representatives to make them put forth agendas and legislation those nations wanted, rather than for us the American people?

Do churches still try to wield influence into the political process? Yes. But the explicit separation only allows them to go so far before the checks and balances trigger and root it out. It gives a benchmark for evaluation so things don't spiral out of control. Will corporations still try to wield influence into the political process? Yes. But if we explicitly separate corporation and state, that will prevent the out of control actions we see now, where our representatives don't listen to us unless we go to extreme lengths, and only listen to how much green some company rep is putting into their pocket to forward and put into law some agenda.

It's pretty clear cut to me.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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