Immediately following the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) that came as a result of January’s Internet blackout protest, my first thought was: This is only the beginning. These particular bills may have been thrown to the fire, but the interested powers that concocted this legislation will come back again, and again, and again, until they prevail. And now, I am even more certain of such an outcome.
This afternoon, the pro-SOPA, pro-ACTA Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC), a subset of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released a massive study that shows that industries dependent upon intellectual property — and thus, the protection of intellectual property — account for $5 trillion of the country’s gross domestic product. That’s more than 34 percent of the total $14.6 trillion U.S. GDP.
“Intellectual property protection isn’t just about music labels and movie studios,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), one of three senators to attend the announcement of the study at an event on Capitol Hill today. “It’s about more than students in college dorms downloading pirated copies of the latest song or movie. It is about safety for consumers, and it’s about jobs for American workers and American families.”
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) also attended the event.
Coons, a co-sponsor of PIPA, admitted during the event that
both SOPA and PIPA* SOPA did “overreach” in certain areas, and “really did pose some risk to the Internet.” He also said that the mass protests against these bills was a result of “not communicating effectively.”
*Correction: Sen. Coons’s office sent me an email Thursday afternoon pointing out that while the senator did criticize SOPA for its overreach, he “defended PIPA, which is a much more measured bill.”
Consider this study the first step in correcting that error. Rather than focusing on movie and music piracy, the GIPC study exalts the money and jobs created as a result of undefined “IP industries.” According to the study, 55.7 million jobs are directly or indirectly reliant upon intellectual property industries. IP industries, from music to pharmaceuticals, crank out 74 percent of total U.S. exports, the study shows.
In other words: this study marks the kickoff of a much larger PR campaign that aims to redefine the conversation around intellectual property regulation. Rather than focus on music and movie piracy — a talking point about which many Americans are decidedly apathetic — it focuses on jobs, people’s lives, and a hell of a lot of money. None of this is to say that the study is inaccurate (though that is of course possible, given its source), or that the U.S. economy does not rely heavily upon IP-dependent industries — it most certainly does. My point, instead, is that it is important for those of us who have the best interests of the Internet — its culture, its openness, and the jobs it provides — at heart to understand how the other side plans to play this game now, after a very public defeat in the last round.
Last Saturday, Chris Dodd, a former U.S. senator and current CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said in an interview with Variety that the entertainment industry must take a “more subtle and consumer-oriented” approach to the issue of intellectual property protection. Given that the GIPC study focuses entirely on jobs and the economy, rather than on actual intellectual property creations, I’d guess that this is exactly the kind of new approach Dodd was talking about.
Of course, just because the pro-IP protection camp changes strategies doesn’t mean it can instantly slide more dangerous legislation past us without notice. The Internet is, after all, extremely good at calling someone’s bluff. And you can be sure that whatever bill lands on Congress’ lap next will be picked apart, prodded, and slammed just as much as SOPA and PIPA ever were.
And yet, I can’t help but feel as though this new strategy has far more potential to win over both Congress and its Members’ constituents than the whole “Piracy is bad!” approach. Jobs are, after all, one of the most important issues for Americans today. And if this campaign can successfully convince people that their jobs, and the jobs of their community, are on the line if certain legislation fails to pass, then important (but far more conceptual) issues like Internet openness, censorship, and Freedom of Speech online will be pushed to the margins, and essentially ignored.
Take Ohio, for example. Ohio is a key swing state in presidential elections, and one you would not necessarily think of when it comes to a reliance on intellectual property industries. According to the GIPC study, which is broken down state-by-state, a whopping 57 percent of all Ohioans are employed, either directly or indirectly, by the IP industry. If those nearly 2.7 million people (and others in similar jobs around the country) can be convinced that intellectual property protection is key to their livelihood — and not just that of some rich celebrity musicians or actors — then the task of battling against legislation like SOPA or PIPA becomes infinitely more difficult.
In an ideal world, IP industries, Congress, and the Internet community will find common ground that does not result in one group getting pushed under the bus to allow another group to move forward. But with massive propaganda efforts like the GIPC study taking center stage, such a peaceful outcome seems all the more unlikely. Especially considering that the next SOPA, whatever it will be called (probably something with “jobs” in the title), is already being written.
Image via karen roach/Shutterstock
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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.