Hence, Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and a huge list of other popular content sites (see http://sopastrike.com/ for a full list) are still going ahead with their planned day of protest, by blanking their web pages for 12 to 24 hours, commencing Jan. 18th, 2012.
But what comes next is of far greater importance than what has already happened. Because the upheaval and headline grabbing actions of those sites taking part in this day of action, are exactly the response to SOPA and PIPA the authors of this heinous legislation had hoped for. Phase two of their plan cannot succeed without our collective fascination eventually turning into frustration with those who attempt to keep the ball rolling. It is a strategic distraction, deliberately engineered to appear to be something it isn’t, by the very people who drafted SOPA and PIPA to begin with.
Bait and switch
In the 1950’s, the American economist Milton Friedman, along with his contemporaries in the Chicago School of Economics, devised a strategy for turning uncertainty in the markets to the advantage of those with the muscle to invest in what everyone else was running away from. At first, this theoretical strategy was of only minor academic interest to other economists; a thought experiment which no-one believed could work in the real world, because it depended upon the sort of fear and uncertainty which can easily lead to uncontrollable panic.
Today this strategy, known as The Shock Doctrine, is used by governments all over the world. Its transition, from an interesting theory to government policy, was made possible by successive American administrations, from Nixon to Obama, increasing the power of both the financial services industry and multinational corporations, by simultaneously decreasing the oversight and regulatory powers of the government over those same institutions. It was copied by everyone from Pinochet and Thatcher, to Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama, as eagerly as it was by Yeltsin, Putin, Blair and Cameron.
By deliberately creating fear, anyone selling a calming solution to those fears, becomes the dominant player — even if their strategy ultimately involves making ever riskier moves. Analogous to John Nash’s Game Theory, to succeed, Friedman’s doctrine is predicated upon the notion that in times of uncertainty, populations are easier to corral behind shifts in policy, which appear to be in their long term interest, despite that in the short term their effects are harsh. The cheat, is that the fear is artificially created, so that the long term ambition of those who claim to have a fix for that which they designed, can never be achieved. The carrot merely has to constantly descend further and further down the stick.
What the architects of the SOPA and PIPA legislation are ultimately hoping, is that by the time they are forced to abandon their initial proposals, the shock felt in the technology sector at having come so close to seeing their entire business model effectively made illegal will be so great, that it forces them into agreeing changes, introduced in the name of compromise, which in-fact go much further than the original proposals ever hoped to achieve.
Follow the money
Between them, Apple, Google and Amazon represent the end of the old ways of doing things. Apple controls the lion’s share of the most profitable parts of the music business: the distribution platform, the playback media and marketing. Google owns the tracks which the advertising train of the online economy runs on. And Amazon recently announced a move to a publishing model, buoyed by the success of its Kindle eReader device, which puts the sort of control into the hands of authors and content owners, which the traditional print industry simply cannot afford to do.
Hollywood knows the days of its business model are also numbered. 3D and IMAX might have drawn people back to the multiplexes to see the latest blockbuster, but not every movie can have a $200 million budget, and not every movie buff enjoys thin plots, centred around CGI explosions and plastic tits. That’s why the MPAA is going after the low hanging fruit of BitTorrent, which impacts most significantly, not on its latest releases, but its legacy assets. The fact which they cannot seem to fathom, despite that it is common knowledge among every 12 year old from Phoenix, Arizona to Pelton Fell, County Durham, is it’s simply easier and cheaper to download a BitTorrent of ‘The Girl Whose Nipples Speak Norwegian‘, than it is to pay £9.99 to wait three days for an easily scratched DVD to be delivered in the post, or as is the case with “legitimate” digital downloads, has been so badly crippled to prevent it from playing on specific devices, that it simply doesn’t meet its intended purpose.
So instead of embracing the distribution model everyone is already using, Hollywood resorts to type; if you can’t beat ’em, sue ’em. Their case to both the congress and house of representatives, that websites hosted outside the United States pose a serious threat to the American economy, perfectly demonstrates this backwards, xenophobic, money grabbing mentality. It essentially accuses anyone who voices concern over their wide reaching proposals as being part of the problem. When, in reality, they are the solution to a problem the studios themselves created, when instead of learning lessons from Napster, they sought to tighten their grip on a system no-one under the age of 40 understands, much less uses.
Brace yourself for phase two
In the coming weeks and months, you’re going to hear a lot of crazy talk about Johnny Foreigner “stealing our jobs” and “draining our economy”, because if there is one type of Shock Doctrine the American electorate respond to better than any other, it’s that which appears to come from overseas. The weakness in this argument, is it’s complete unadulterated bullshit — and more and more true Americans are beginning to realise it every day.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we European types were verbally beaten to within an inch of our lives for daring to so much as mention to our American friends, on-line, that they were being deceived on an industrial scale. From the manipulative lies which led to the illegal invasion of Iraq, to the warning signs about Obama’s true position on Israel, discussion forums and UseNet chat groups would ring out to the sound of self-congratulatory chest beating, as yet another Englishman was sent packing to chants of “USA! USA!”, as yet another hastily assembled, received opinion, know-nothing-and-proud-of-it reply thread, became lauded as if it were the modern day equivalent for the war of independence.
Then came the occupy movement. Suddenly, Americans realised they weren’t alone in their disgust at the way a tiny minority of their countrymen portrayed them. From Portland to Pittsburgh, ordinary people with ordinary lives, began to see that, far from being in the minority with their yearning for journalism by journalists as opposed to celebrities, and music by musicians as opposed to DJs, and books written by writers, as opposed to critics, they were in the majority — and that together they could change things forever.
SOPA / PIPA is the opening salvo against that shared belief. They are coming for our freedom of information. And until we learn to stop reacting in the pre-programmed, knee-jerk way their doctrine is specifically designed to provoke us into, they’ll keep getting what they want and taking whatever they like.
Write to congress now!
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