SOPA is dead, and the tech industry is still not quite elated. They shouldn’t be either, because the root cause hasn’t been addressed. We can say with a high degree of certainty that Congress will be more careful introducing bills that tamper with the internet, but they have many ways of avoiding debate. They’ll shove something just like it in the back of some anti-terror bill at the last minute and the President will have to sign it.
This is one of the few bad things about bi-partisanship. When something like the need to stop piracy is widely accepted by both parties (SOPA had broad support on both sides of the aisle) and there is campaign funding at stake, they can turn a lobbyist’s email into a law faster than you can blink.
What we in the tech industry really need to fix is lobbying, and to do that we must first fix our worldview. We subscribe to the romantic notion of a meritocratic market. We shouldn’t. It’s an ideal, but we don’t live in a world of ideals. We live in a world in which politicians make the rules of the game.
Paul Graham, in Y Combinator’s latest request for startup, says of Hollywood:
SOPA brought it to our attention that Hollywood is dying. They must be dying if they’re resorting to such tactics. If movies and TV were growing rapidly, that growth would take up all their attention. When a striker is fouled in the penalty area, he doesn’t stop as long as he still has control of the ball; it’s only when he’s beaten that he turns to appeal to the ref.
This way of looking at it is why SOPA existed in the first place. To mature industries like Hollywood lobbying isn’t an area of focus, it’s a basic business function. This is equivalent to saying “Google must be dying because they have accountants. If they were good at making money they wouldn’t stop to count it.”
Mature industries have lobbyists just like they do janitors, it’s simply something they view as a cost of doing business. I believe the software companies will get there soon.
But fixing the problem (which I’m not optimistic about) is another thing entirely, and no one industry can do this. The root cause is our system of campaign financing. Congressmen accept money from industries because they believe (probably falsely) that money helps keep them in office.
I’ll avoid getting political here because I could rant about campaign finance reform for pages, but the upshot for the tech industry is they need to either fix the game, by lobbying to end lobbying, or learn to play it better by lobbying to uphold their rights. Either way it shouldn’t (and I think in the very near future won’t) be viewed as anything other than a basic business function.