SOPA: Rebuttal of RIAA Opinion Pt. 2

February 9, 2012

This is part 2 of The Official Merchant Services Blog‘s rebuttal of this New York Times Op-Ed piece titled “What Wikipedia Won’t Tell You” written by Cary H. Sherman, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents music labels.

The Real Slim Shady

Mr. Sherman in his article goes on to accuse Wikipedia of spreading misinformation. He tries to find a smoking gun by suggesting the tech giants have an agenda of their own. He accuses them of bias in terms of the story they present, saying they are bending the truth and not being neutral. He even attacks media outlets that supported SOPA for not “taking advantage of their broadcast credibility to press their case.”

This is amazing. In a piece crafted specifically to present the RIAA’s very biased agenda that is featured in one of those media outlets thus stretching the New York Times’ already damaged credibility — lest we forget Zachary Kouwe, Maureen Dowd or Jayson Blair — Sherman accuses his opposition of doing the exact same thing he is doing. Keep in mind, his own executives were gloating about how well the music industry is doing in 2011. But here he is saying the industry is still being harmed by piracy and that Wikipedia is not telling you the whole story. Sherman simply seems to not be as familiar with how the internet works as his employee Duckworth is. To borrow the ever-popular phrase, he’s doing it wrong. He says, “Misinformation may be a dirty trick, but it works.” Not on the internet. People find you lying to them, or manipulating them, and they either make a mockery of you or turn you off. Sorry Mr. Sherman but in this instance, Citation Needed!

Host Merchant Services image about the Stop Online Piracy Act and the players involved.

First World Problems

Mr. Sherman makes another fatal mistake with his article when he types: “The conventional wisdom is that the defeat of these bills shows the power of the digital commons. Sure, anybody could click on a link or tweet in outrage — but how many knew what they were supporting or opposing? Would they have cast their clicks if they knew they were supporting foreign criminals selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals to Americans? Was it SOPA they were opposed to, or censorship?”

Sherman is playing off of a stereotype about the twitter-age, or Net 2.0 –that everything is simplified and broken down into tiny bits of information. That the online citizen isn’t getting the full story is in fact that’s his main idea. But Sherman has forgotten net 1.0, and the strength of what Google, Wikipedia and all of that data really is. Somewhere between twitter campaigns with STOP SOPA avatars and Sherman’s own e-mail inbox is this huge collective database of information, which includes the exact language of the legislation as written. Every single piece Host Merchant Services has written on SOPA has included this link:

Stop Online Piracy Act PDF

Merchant Services Document Download Graphic

Merchant Services Download Button

Many other articles that covered this topic throughout the past year have given links to all of the relevant data and text. It’s the internet Mr. Sherman. The information is just a click away. Many people not only had access to the bill, they also read it. And so their protest was based on the bill itself. Not on the oversimplification you suggest.

Young, Wild but Not Free

Mr. Sherman then takes a wild swing at all of the people who protested SOPA, suggesting some of them are criminals: “But others may simply believe that online music, books and movies should be free. And how many of those e-mails were from the same people who attacked the Web sites of the Department of Justice, the Motion Picture Association of America, my organization and others as retribution for the seizure of Megaupload, an international digital piracy operation? Indeed, it’s hackers like the group Anonymous that engage in real censorship when they stifle the speech of those with whom they disagree.”

So just because people don’t agree with your agenda, they’re hackers who support Megaupload and want free music? That’s the kind of rookie debate tactic that gets you ridiculed throughout the internet. It’s also misinformation and a huge distraction from the topic. The Megaupload arrest is separate from the SOPA debate. This is obvious. The arrest was made under the current law. The FBI was able to crack down on piracy using what is currently in place. That the federal government was able to successfully attack piracy under the laws currently in place would seem to weaken Sherman’s position. In fact data collected on the topic has shown that once the government moved past the Napster issue that Mr. Sherman was so quick to cry about in the opening portion of his article, piracy started to take a huge hit. In fact, that PDF from the IFPI has some compelling statistics about how much piracy dipped after Limewire was shut down. Apparently the current laws have a lot of teeth if law enforcement goes after the pirates and doesn’t waste time going after citizens or forcing search engines and payment network providers to police the internet.

U Jelly?

The last straw with Mr. Sherman’s terrible presentation of his organization’s biased agenda comes from his short and shallow rejection of the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN). This bill was drafted as an alternative to SOPA and PIPA. This bill was, excuse the irony, carefully devised by tech industry experts in the government — with an eye toward attacking online piracy but closing the wide open holes that the previous bills contained. The Official Merchant Services Blog helped break this story back in early December, with this blog, where we stated: “A bipartisan group of lawmakers have come out in support of a new law that has been proposed as an alternative to SOPA. Under this proposed legislation, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) would be given the power to investigate claims of copyright infringement on foreign websites. The proposal would also allow the ITC to issue cease-and-desist orders to foreign websites that willfully engage in copyright infringement. The lawmakers demonstrate some clever ingenuity here with this proposal by tapping the ITC for the job of piracy oversight. The ITC already investigates patent infringement complaints and can bar infringing products from being imported into the U.S.”

In short, OPEN is an alternative that was everything Sherman asked for in online piracy legislation that we never received with SOPA or PIPA. It was well researched. It deals with the issues. It has input from tech industry savvy and knowledgeable politicians that know what they’re doing. But Sherman’s misinformation sums up OPEN like this: “The diversionary bill that they drafted, the OPEN Act, would do little to stop the illegal behavior and would not establish a workable framework, standards or remedies. It has become clear that, at this point, neither SOPA, PIPA nor OPEN is a viable answer.”

Host Merchant Services image of online piracy

Forget You

Again Sherman glossed over some important aspects of his own organization’s rhetoric. This article found at The Verge cites the RIAA’s opposition to OPEN and its support of SOPA.  The article quotes RIAA Senior Executive VP Mitch Glazier as saying that the ITC “clearly does not operate on the short time frame necessary to be effective.” Glazer cites the delays in the RIM vs. Kodak case — filed in January 2010 but now expected to be ruled on in September 2012 — as a prime example. Glazier sees these delays as hugely damaging, saying that each day a piracy-facilitating website stays online can cost millions of dollars to “American companies, employees and economy,” and be “an ongoing threat to the security and safety of our citizens.”

So again, it’s a case of what Sherman isn’t telling you, while simultaneously suggesting it’s Wikipedia or Google that are obfuscating the issue. The biggest problem with SOPA and what helped get it killed in Congress was that it left things extremely wide open to interpretation. The biggest boon to OPEN is that it requires investigation. Yes, that absolutely does take time. Time needs to be taken. The RIAA doesn’t seem to care about the affects that can happen when a law goes into place allowing swift shut down of websites based on willy nilly complaints or the hidden agendas of competitors. In fact, this is what is wrong with the RIAA’s stance on piracy. They want what caused the protest in the first place. They want to be able to quickly shut down sites with little to no oversight on how the plug gets pulled. So when an alternative is proposed that works more at the a proper speed with investigation, careful consideration of the circumstances and oversight, the RIAA has to denounce that suggestion.

The RIAA keeps pushing for legislation that mirrors SOPA. In fact, this will be the third consecutive year that Senator Ron Wyden [D-OR] will defend our country against the immense loopholes and abusive traits that the RIAA crusades for — Wyden took a stand and singlehandedly curbed the Combat Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act of 2010 (S. 3804) in 2010, and then was at the forefront of halting PIPA this year in the senate. What Sherman is telling us isn’t anything revealing about Wikipedia. No. What Sherman is telling us is that no matter how many times the government tells him that these laws are poorly written and open for abuse, Sherman will keep pushing for this to go through.

Courage Wolf

Host Merchant Services and all other payment network providers have a vested interest in this legislation because they keep getting named in it. These laws keep coming up that require payment processors to be involved in the policing of online content. The issue is just as important to merchant services as the Durbin Amendment. And so The Official Merchant Services Blog is once again here to keep people informed about these developments. The RIAA is singing the same old song about Napster and Piracy trying to push some sympathetic buttons with the people, but at the same time attacking the overwhelming opposition to their agenda, calling them misinformed — and criminal. Suggesting that internet users don’t go beyond twitter messages in the depth of their awareness of issues that pertain directly to the future of their internet usage. And the entire time the RIAA is engaging in this shell-game of misinformation, they’re also gloating about how profitable they’ve been able to make digital music transactions. They claim they know the internet. But Mr. Sherman acts like he still thinks it’s a series of tubes. He might know it’s not a truck, but he’s still doing it wrong.

We’ll leave you with the same message we had days ago when Sherman’s employees were tweeting “DECLARE THAT!”

The bottom line is if Lady Gaga and Pitbull online sales are robust and  legit, it’s probably time to back off the Online Piracy rhetoric.

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