During the deluge of protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) from tech companies and civil rights groups alike, the Business Software Alliance, who counts Apple and Microsoft in their ranks, issued a glowing vote of support for the law. Despite the folks in Cupertino having stayed fairly silent on the issue, the unabashedly anti-SOPA blogosphere is glaring at Apple for what the apparent betrayal. (Microsoft betrayed the SOPA critics long ago with an assertive letter of support for PROTECT IP, the stalled Senate equivalent to SOPA.) The Apple fanboy blogs seem to be in a state of disgruntled denial.
Before digging into the blogger backlash, it's worth addressing the broader debate behind SOPA. The proposed law is designed to better protect intellectual property from being pirated, but because of a number of unintended consequences, the bills language would effectively allow the government to censor the internet. (For a primer on the details of SOPA, check out this great explainer by David Sohn and Andrew McDiarmid at The Atlantic; we've also embedded a noticeably one-sided video explaining SOPA's dangerous potential at the bottom of this post.) Though the bill is moving swiftly through the House with nearly $200 million-worth of entertainment industry lobbying efforts putting wind in its sails, both Nancy Pelosi and Darrell Issa have spoken out in strong opposition to SOPA. Given their tech-heavy constituencies in California this isn't a huge surprise. Even the European Union adopted a resolution in opposition to SOPA! But the pro-SOPA stance of the BSA illustrates how different types of tech companies — notably the companies that sell potentially pirate-able software — highlights the minority viewpoint in Silicon Valley:
The Business Software Alliance today commended House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) for introducing the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (H.R. 3261) to curb the growing rash of software piracy and other forms of intellectual property theft that are being perpetrated by illicit websites.
Let's contrast that with the open letter sent to Smith and other ranking members of Congress that also ran as a full page ad in The New York Times on behalf of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and a few other top Silicon Valley giants in strong opposition to both SOPA and PROTECT IP:
Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new and uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of websites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation's cybersecurity. …
We urge you not to risk either this success or the tremendous benefits the Internet has brought to hundreds of millions of Americans and people around the world.
This coalition of the unwilling is supported by digital and civil rights advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla and Creative Commons, all of whom seem to have a number of allies amongst the Apple fanboys. While hesitant to admit that Apple is one of the bad guys, Josh Browlee at the Apple fan site Cult of Mac addressed the news of Apple's tacit support with harsh words and concerned tone for Apple's future:
Now, it’s important to point out that Apple is only indirectly supporting SOPA, and the usefulness of the BSA as an organization goes much farther than just their tacky support of a terrible bill.
However, what’s bizarre about Apple’s even indirect support of SOPA is that if the bill was enacted, it’s possible that Cupertino could find itself falling afoul of its provisions. After all, Apple just launched iTunes Match, a service that allows users to upload their copyrighted music into the cloud. SOPA could effectively get iTunes Match blacklisted from the internet.
Not iTunes! Actually given Apple's sometimes draconian history of keeping a tight lid on intellectual property in iTunes with digital rights management software and hope to grow its very profitable media business, it's not out of the question that Apple would side with the entertainment industry. But let's be clear: Apple's support for the law is so far assumed based on the BSA statement. We've reached out to the folks in Cupertino to see if they might break their silence on the issue and will update you if we hear back.
As promised, a helpful video about SOPA:
And the full list of BSA members:
- Bentley Systems
- Cadence Design Systems
- CNC Software – Mastercam
- Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corporation
- Progress Software
- Rosetta Stone
- Siemens PLM Software, Inc.
- The MathWorks