Remember the Stop Online Piracy Act? It was the universally reviled anti-digital piracy bill that was coasting for a quick and quiet passage into law earlier this year until basically the entire internet rose up in protest. Now SOPA is coming back piece-by-piece, according to TechDirt, and if anyone is going to rise up in opposition this time, it should be the conservative media. Because the son of SOPA brings with it a dreaded "czar."
The new SOPA-fragment bill coming before Congress is the Intellectual Property Attaché Act, which strengthens the powers of the titular diplomatic attachés to promote U.S. copyright laws abroad. The language of the bill, which is sponsored by SOPA author Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), is similar to the section of SOPA that called for intellectual property attachés "to address intellectual property rights violations in the countries where the attachés are assigned."
The new bill, however, has an added provision requiring the president to "appoint an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, who shall report directly to the Director." In other words: an intellectual property czar.
There was a brief period back in 2009 when czars (advisors appointed by the president and not subject to Senate confirmation) were in the eyes of conservative journalists and pundits the epitome of the Obama administration's supposed capacity for anti-democratic, big-government tyranny. (Presidents, Republican and Democrat, have made extensive use of czars for decades.) Sean Hannity said the "unconfirmed, unvetted individuals are now at the helm of a shadow government right here in the U.S." Fox & Friends' Gretchen Carlson called them "czars-slash-kings," while Neil Cavuto suggested they be called "evil despots accountable to no one." Rush Limbaugh went full Godwin, as he is wont to do.
Now we have a Republican congressman proposing legislation that would require the president to appoint yet another tyrannical, shadowy, despotic, perhaps even Hitler-ish czar to manage intellectual property issues abroad. One would think that, given the previous bipartisan opposition to SOPA and the right's well-documented vehemence toward the very idea of czars, they should be the first ones reaching for the pitchforks, no?
Last fall, while television news outlets were largely ignoring the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act during their evening news and opinion programming, their parent companies were busy paying an army of lobbyists to influence Congress on the then-pending legislation.
For months, the networks deemed subjects like Tim Tebow and the British Royal Family to be more worthy of evening coverage. Following criticism for ignoring the growing outrage over the bills, television media eventually devoted considerably more coverage to the widespread protests, website blackouts, and eventual shelving of both bills.
In the fourth quarter of 2011, Comcast (which owns a controlling interest in NBC and MSNBC), News Corp. (Fox News), CBS Corporation (CBS), Time Warner (CNN), Disney (ABC), and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (a trade association that counts Comcast and NBC Universal as members, among others) hired 28 different lobbying firms to lobby Congress on SOPA and Protect IP.
From the January 22 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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The temporary shuttering of several of the internet's most popular websites in protest of SOPA and PIPA has (finally) succeeded in getting cable and broadcast news networks to pay attention to the controversy surrounding the two anti-digital piracy bills. Even Fox News is covering the SOPA protests, albeit in their own uniquely horrible way.
This morning on America's Newsroom, Claudia Cowan filed this report on the SOPA blackouts:
First, let's note what they left out of the report. Fox News' parent company, News Corp., is one of the many media conglomerates supporting SOPA. A disclosure to that effect should have been included, but wasn't.
And that leads us to what they did include. At one point in the report, Cowan says of Google's participation in the anti-SOPA protests: "Some call this ironic, since Google's business is to link users to various sites, essentially, critics contend, stealing other people's content every day."
The "some say" construction is a favorite of Fox News', and in this case we actually know who the "some" are that are saying these things about Google: News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch.
Murdoch is a strong proponent of SOPA and very much dislikes Google, which he argues is the internet's "piracy leader" because links to websites that offer pirated content show up in Google search results.
This argument, it should be noted, makes absolutely no sense and demonstrates the profound technical ignorance of a man with huge influence over tech policy.
But it makes enough sense for Fox News, which reported the absurd spin from its parent company on SOPA without noting their parent company's support for the bill.
News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has a Twitter account. A for-real, honest-to-goodness Twitter feed. He composes the tweets and hits the "send" button. It is a direct link to the mind of one of the wealthiest, most powerful, and controversial men in the world. Which is why it's so surprising and disappointing that, to date, it's been rather banal.
As the New York Times described it, Murdoch impulsively decided to join the microblogging service while tooling around the Caribbean on his yacht over the holidays. Since then it's been a steady stream of pro-vacation missives ("Vacations great time for thinking. St Barth's too many people. Thoughts best kept private around here. Like London!"); promotions of News Corp. ventures ("I LOVE the film 'we bought a zoo', a great family movie. Very proud of fox team who made this great film."); and cryptic warnings ("Jack. Tokyo sounds great but be careful of that full moon").
But this is Murdoch's big debut on the internet! And we're privileged enough to see him stumble his way through the basics of Internet 101. Lesson 1: the internet is a conspiratorial and sexual place: "Why is every tweet thought to conspiratorial or sexual. I was talking blackjack. Give me a break." Lesson 2: the heartbreak of auto-correct: "Yes, thanks, of course I meant POTUS. Somehow iPad changed my spelling. I should have checked. Sorry."
Murdoch is obviously not of the internet generation (he'll be 81 in March), so tweets like these aren't surprising. And while his ignorance of internet basics is, in these instances, charming and somewhat comic, it starts to have more sinister implications when you consider Murdoch's influence over tech policy.
News Corp. is one of the many large media conglomerates that support the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) and its beleaguered cousin, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The controversial pieces of anti-digital piracy legislation -- once considered all-but-certain to become law -- ran headlong into a buzz saw of internet activism and are now facing an uncertain future. Big-name tech companies (Google, Yahoo!, Facebook) opposed the bills out of concern over censorship and their potentially stifling effect on innovation, and popular online communities (Reddit, Wikipedia) organized successful boycotts of pro-SOPA companies and are scheduled to go dark for most of tomorrow as an act of protest.
As one would expect, Murdoch, as the head of News Corp., enthusiastically supports SOPA and PIPA, and he has taken to Twitter to boost the bills and take swipes at the opposition. The problem is that he doesn't seem to have any idea what he's talking about, and actually ended up making an anti-SOPA argument by accident.
From the January 15 edition of MSNBC's Up With Chris Hayes:
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While U.S. television news outlets have largely ignored the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act during their evening news and opinion programming, they have covered repeatedly and at-length Tim Tebow, Casey Anthony, Kim Kardashian's divorce, the British Royal Family, and Alec Baldwin being kicked off an airplane.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This cartoon has been modified since publication to reflect a correction in the Media Matters report it was based on.
As Media Matters detailed last week, most of the cable and network television news outlets have been busy not reporting during the evening news shows on a sweeping, controversial piece of legislation that's being championed by the parent companies of the same television news outlets busy not covering the story.
The proposed legislation, strongly supported by American media giants such as Viacom*, News Corp. and Time Warner, is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and it aims to curtail the amount of pirated content found for free on the Internet. But critics, including leading tech companies, complain that if passed in its current form SOPA would provide the Department of Justice with far-reaching powers to police piracy; powers that could severely limit internet freedom and choice.
And that's the debate big media television outlets have been virtually ignoring in their most-watched evening programming blocks.
Unfortunately, we have seen this pattern before where major media outlets, particularly television, have made minimal efforts to report on sweeping efforts by the government to rewrite (favorably) how their parent companies are allowed to do business.
Specifically, during the previous administration, network and cable news division routinely looked away in 2003 while the Federal Communications Commission readied to approve radical media ownership rules that would have allowed significant consolidation among by the likes of Viacom, Time Warner, News Corp. and NBC; the same companies that lobbied intensely to make sure the FCC's cross-ownership rule changes were put into place.
The proposed changes, championed by President Bush's FCC chairman Michael Powell, would have allowed media conglomerates to own up to eight properties in the same market, including three separate television stations. The changes would have piggybacked on the sweeping media consolidation that was ushered in with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. (The FCC's attempt to relax consolidation rules was overturned in by the courts last summer.)
But as the crucial FCC vote in June of 2003 approached, television news teams, much like today with SOPA, stayed mostly mum about the controversial measure. "The broadcast media has been absolutely atrocious on this issue," said media author Robert McChesney at the time. "The coverage has been virtually nonexistent."
The claim of a news blackout was highlighted by a poll at the time conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, which found 72 percent of Americans had heard "nothing at all" about the possible change in media ownership rules.
My hunch is that figure would be even higher today if Pew asked Americans what they have learned about SOPA from watching television news.
*CLARIFICATION: Media Matters' report detailing the lack of SOPA television news coverage incorrectly referenced Viacom as the parent company of CBS. CBS is currently owned by the CBS Corporation, which split from Viacom in 2005.
From the January 9 edition of Current's The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur:
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From the January 7 edition of Media Matters Radio on SiriusXM Left 127:
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On the January 6 edition of his show The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur highlighted Media Matters' recent report detailing how television news outlets have virtually ignored the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as it makes its way through Congress.
Media Matters found that most major television news outlets -- MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts. One network, CNN, devoted a single evening segment to it.
The parent companies of most of these networks, as well as two of the networks themselves, are listed as official "supporters" of this legislation on the U.S. House of Representatives' website.
New York Times media columnist David Carr, who described the legislation as "alarming in its reach," explained in a column earlier this week that "digitally oriented companies see SOPA as dangerous and potentially destructive to the open Web and a step toward the kind of intrusive Internet regulation that has made China a global villain to citizens of the Web." Google co-founder Sergey Brin has warned that the legislation "would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world."
UPDATE: Media Matters senior fellow Eric Boehlert appeared on the January 9 edition of The Young Turks to discuss SOPA with Uygur.
For an updated version of this report, click here.
Controversial legislation that the co-founder of Google has warned "would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world" has received virtually no coverage from major American television news outlets during their evening newscasts and opinion programming. The parent companies of most of these networks, as well as two of the networks themselves, are listed as official "supporters" of this legislation on the U.S. House of Representatives' website.
As the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) makes its way through Congress, most major television news outlets -- MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC -- have ignored the bill during their evening broadcasts. One network, CNN, devoted a single evening segment to it. (The data on lack of coverage is based on a search of the Lexis-Nexis database since October 1, 2011. The Nexis database does not include comprehensive daytime coverage, and also does not include Shep Smith's 7pm nightly Fox News program, so both are excluded from the study.)
Over the past few months, debate over SOPA and its companion Senate bill, the PROTECT IP Act (also known as PIPA) has boiled over online. Numerous tech writers, experts, and companies have spoken out against the bills, warning that while they ostensibly target online piracy and "rogue" foreign websites hosting pirated copyrighted content, the bills could severely limit internet freedom and innovation.
The Daily Caller features today an op-ed by former senator Don Nickles in which the Oklahoma Republican throws what weight he has behind two controversial anti-digital piracy bills before Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP.
According to Nickles, the two bills will bring about a new age of glorious online free enterprise, and the critics of the legislation (who object to the potential for abuse and online censorship) are liars who enable criminal behavior:
While there are differences in the two bills, the ultimate goal is the same: to protect the American workers and businesses whose jobs are in jeopardy.
Critics of the legislation have fired a fusillade of inaccurate accusations charging that the bills will undermine Internet freedom. Protecting free expression online and protecting intellectual property rights are not mutually exclusive goals and suggesting they are is a false choice.
Freedom of speech has coexisted with intellectual property protection since our nation's beginnings. Our founders in fact respected the principle of intellectual property protection so much they included it in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. And founders from John Adams to George Washington wrote and commented on the integrally linked concepts of freedom, liberty and property rights. Theft of intellectual property is not protected speech any more than breaking into someone's home.
So Don Nickles supports SOPA and PROTECT-IP. What neither he nor the Daily Caller disclose is that Nickles supports them because he's paid a lot of money to support them.
Nickles' lobbying firm -- the Nickles Group -- lobbied in support of PROTECT-IP (S.968) on behalf of the Copyright Alliance, which has paid the Nickles Group $135,000 this year. It's likely that the Nickles Group is also lobbying for SOPA (the bill was introduced in October and fourth-quarter disclosures won't be made public until the new year).
The Daily Caller should make clear to their readers Nickles' financial incentives for promoting these two bills.
Tonight, Politico will host an awards ceremony honoring the political figures they consider the "Policymakers of the Year" in three different arenas: energy, healthcare, and technology.
And just who are these lucky Washington powerbrokers whom other Washington powerbrokers have deemed worthy of recognition? In the energy field, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. In healthcare, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). And in tech policy, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT).
The selection of Ryan as the healthcare "Policymaker of the Year" has raised some eyebrows, but even more interesting are the technology honorees, particularly when you look at the list of sponsors underwriting the Politico awards show.
According to Politico, Smith and Leahy are being honored for the passage of the America Invents Act, a patent reform bill, which was "the only major piece of tech legislation signed into law in 2011 -- a rare instance in which a bipartisan effort bore fruit."
Smith and Leahy are also the chief sponsors of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), respectively. Both bills, which purport to combat online piracy of copyrighted material, face opposition from big-name technology companies that fear they will stifle online innovation. Legal scholars have denounced the bills as unconstitutional and said that they are tantamount to Internet censorship. Perhaps most significantly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) both oppose SOPA in its current form.
Just about everyone hates these bills ... but the entertainment industry loves them. And among the sponsors of the Politico awards gala is the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the video game industry's chief lobbying group. According to disclosure records, the ESA has spent thousands of dollars this year lobbying in support of PIPA, designated S.968. (For the individual filings, click here, here, here, and here.) ESA has also donated $1,000 to Smith each election cycle going back to 2008. They donated $2,400 to Leahy in 2010.
That a chief proponent of these anti-piracy bills is also a sponsor of an awards ceremony honoring the chief authors of these same bills is unseemly, to say the least, and Politico should disclose this relationship.