January 20, 2012

Who Killed SOPA?

SOPA died last night.

If you’re a member of the MPAA team tasked with shepherding this bill into Congress and getting it passed into law, you started the week hoping the bill would move quietly through the system as an uncontroversial piece of commercial regulation.*

Uncontroversial bills have to be bipartisan. So you appointed as your legislative spearhead a Texas Republican, and worked to get congressmen and senators from both sides of the aisle to support the bill.

Depending on which conservative interest he favors, a Republican lawmaker might align for or against balls-to-the-wall intellectual property enforcement. It advantages** a lucrative industry, one in which America enjoys a worldwide upper hand. On the other hand, that industry is Hollywood, whose content social conservatives love to hate.

Unfortunately for you, MPAA lobbyist, there's a primary on. The primary system may be a crazy way to pick a president, but it’s a fabulous way to figure out which stances work with voters. And last night all four primary contenders intuited that slamming Hollywood played better for them than supporting its industrial interests. In one brief round of answers they cemented the anti-SOPA position as the Republican default.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats will line up in favor of SOPA. They too can pick either side of the fight and remain within their interests or ideology.

But even if you keep the Democrats on board, you second-person MPAA representative, you, the issue won’t go back to being bipartisan again. Worst case, you lose both parties. Best case, you get a partisan battle, which will be protracted, heavily publicized, and, with the system’s profusion of veto points, is unlikely to resolve in your favor.

The Internet generation may have whittled down SOPA’s hit points with blackout day, but it was the Romney-Gingrich-Santorum-Paul adventuring party that scores the kill-steal.

*To nurture this hope, you would have to forget that the sector you want to regulate, information tech, is as big if not bigger than the entertainment industry, and better positioned to mobilize public opinion. But let’s leave that aside for the moment.

**If it works as claimed. But let’s leave that aside for the moment.