SOPA/PIPA-Interview mit Parker Higgins von der EFF

Parker Higgins is a Staff Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and occasional author at Netzpiloten.de. We ask Parker some questions about the SOPA and PIPA in the USA and what it mean to us in Europe.

1. The two US bills SOPA & PIPA were just averted after massive criticism. Can you sum up what they were meant to do, and why they were problematic?

Supporters of the bills argued that SOPA and PIPA were necessary to fight a class of „rogue“ foreign sites that have no assets in the U.S., but that were facilitating unauthorized downloading by Americans. These sites, the supporters say, aren’t possible to prosecute under existing U.S. law.

There are a couple of issues with that. The first is that there isn’t a lot of evidence that these sorts of sites exist as a major problem, which is compounded by the fact that the content industries‘ numbers are never available for peer review and are notoriously difficult to trust. When the U.S. Trade Representative compiled an „out-of-cycle“ report about the „rogue“ sites in question, they were only able to list 19 sites. And one of those sites was MegaUpload, which was recently closed by the FBI.

So because the problem’s not well-defined, the solution is bound to be a bit rough. In the case of SOPA and PIPA, it was very rough. Civil liberties groups like EFF and the ACLU were joined by first amendment scholars, tech companies, cyber-security experts, and many others in pointing out the collateral damage these bills would cause to the Internet as we know it. And on top of all that, the consensus was that these bills were unlikely to be effective in stemming the problem they identified, because their technical measures would be pretty trivial to circumvent.

SOPA and PIPA hit that sweet spot of unnecessary, harmful, and ineffective that made it easy for people who heard about them to decide they were opposed and let their legislators know about it.

2. There was a massive online protest against SOPA/PIPA. The New York Times labeled it a coming-of-age moment for internet politics. What was different from former online protests?

The most obvious difference from earlier protests was the size and scope, with tens of thousands of sites involved and millions of people participating in one way or another. Chris Dodd, the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America and one of the primary supporters of the bill, compared the protest to the Arab Spring. (As a side note: he might not have thought the analogy all the way through, because it doesn’t work very favorably for the MPAA.) I’m not sure this protest was on the same level as some of those government-toppling actions in the Middle East, but it was an important moment for the Internet and demonstrated that public opinion can still have an impact on the actions of legislators.

3. SOPA & PIPA were at least temporarily shelved. What is the status now, and what’s next?

Copyright reform activists know to expect these bills to come back, in one form or another. Maybe it’s not in 2012, because these bills are pretty politically toxic and we’re in an election year, but it’ll likely be soon. I’m hopeful that the enthusiasm and public awareness generated as a response to these bills can be used productively, maybe towards a positive agenda of re-shaping copyright laws to better reflect the public interest, and not that of a handful of companies in the content industries.

4. What should we all look out for, in Europe and in the US?

The content industries aren’t used to legislative defeats, and they’re almost certainly devising new ways to get these sorts of laws through in a new way. Two techniques for pushing through unpopular legislation that we’ve seen used a lot in the last few years are „policy laundering“, or passing laws in international arenas that are unlikely to pass muster domestically, and pressure from the U.S. Trade Representative on governments around the world. Of course that first technique has been the driving force behind dangerous international agreements like the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which are winding their way through the approval process now. The second technique is probably responsible for bad laws like Spain’s Ley Sinde, which has been tied to leaked threatening memos from the U.S.T.R.

5. How can we get involved?

ACTA has been signed by most of the countries that were involved in its secret drafting, but has yet to be ratified by the EU Parliament. Telling your MEPs that you oppose the proposed agreement, and they should too, is a good way to take action against it. The other important thing is to keep informed on developments on this sort of legislation. EFF is a good resource for keeping informed, and we try to cover news from all around the world. Sites like Le Quadrature du Net are great for news specific to Europe, and civil society groups in each country do a good job of covering local developments. It takes a bit of effort to really be an informed citizen, but it makes it that much harder for laws that conflict with the public interest to get passed under the radar.

Peter Bihr

war Netzpiloten-Projektleiter von 2007-2010. Heute hilft er als freier Berater Unternehmen, ihre Strategien erfolgreich ins Netz zu übertragen. Über Social Media und digitale Kultur schreibt und twittert Peter auch privat unter TheWavingCat.com. Mitglied des Netzpiloten Blogger Networks.


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