After The Atlantic Wire likened his recent justification for the extreme measures of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to something a totalitarian regime might say, Christopher Dodd wrote a blog post. Under the optimistic-sounding headline "Protecting Free Speech Online," the former Senator from Connecticut, current chief lobbyist for Hollywood's Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and outspoken SOPA lover spoke his mind in annals of The Huffington Post's Entertainment section. Dodd's defense against the despot comparison is summed up in the first three paragraphs:
Given the Internet's role in helping democratic activists the world over break through government repression, we must be vigilant in protecting free speech online.
But does freedom of speech require the freedom to steal? That's what some are arguing, comparing our efforts to protect American jobs from international criminal enterprises who profit from the theft of intellectual property online to the censorship policies of repressive regimes.
I served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 30 years. I know what authoritarian and totalitarian censorship looks like. And the comparison is baldly false.
Dodd has more to say, but we need to interject. "Freedom to steal" and upholding the principle of a free and open Internet -- which is actually what SOPA critics want -- are not at all synonymous. In fact, the same group of tech companies that's so vehemently opposed SOPA over the past few months, including Google, Facebook and Twitter, have thrown their support behind an alternative bill, called OPEN, that remains committed to clamping down on piracy but offers a bit more transparency and due process and a little less, well, broad censoring powers than SOPA. Furthermore, as Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain explained to us, complaints about SOPA's potential to allow the government to block websites are one thing, but an entirely different argument for not supporting any of these bills lies in the fact that the government hasn't done any data-driven research to figure out if these laws would actually be effective in stopping people from stealing online.
Then again, a lot of people simply remain suspicious about the motivations behind SOPA itself. Entertainment industry groups like Dodd's MPAA have spent almost hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying on Capitol Hill and more details emerge almost daily about how SOPA has been rushed through the House of Representatives. Pointing out the latest evidence of Washington's revolving doorlegislative process, TechDirt's Mike Masnick wrote recently, "It may not be directly corrupt, but to the public it sure feels corrupt." Come to think of it, it does feel a litte shady that five out of six of the witnesses invited to testify about the deeply controversial bill in the House Judiciary Committee were arguing in favor of the bill.