In one corner sit the powerful media conglomerates, spitting bile over the way the internet has facilitated the widespread copying of their content. In the other sit the fast-growing companies of Silicon Valley, who've revolutionised the way we communicate, consume and co-exist.
In the middle sit hundreds of American politicians, some of whom appear to take an almost perverse pride in their inability to grasp technological issues. Six years ago, Senator Ted Stevens was mercilessly mocked for describing the internet as a "series of tubes". But in 2012, that kind of ignorance has led to a bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), whose vague wording threatens the internet as we use it today.
Rupert Murdoch has attacked Google's opposition to Sopa on Twitter, posting: "No wonder [they're] pouring millions into lobbying." But as one prominent Republican politician, Darrell Issa, pointed out at the weekend, this bill was "written in Hollywood" and seems to have caught Silicon Valley on the hop. As with the UK's Digital Economy Act, much of Sopa uncritically accepts the claims of media groups regarding their suffering at the hands of the internet – and it's worth noting one particular finding of the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property that was set up after the passing of the Digital Economy Act: "There is no doubt that the persuasive powers of celebrities and important UK creative companies have distorted policy outcomes." Governments have been hearing the voice of the media for some time; it's the technology companies that have had the catching up to do.
They're succeeding; support for Sopa appears to be evaporating. Few believe that innocent people using YouTube should be denied that right because someone else is illegally using it. With luck, the bill will be replaced by legislation protecting copyright and the free flow of information – without multinational corporations having tedious arguments over who the "bad guys" are.Reuse content