Chris Dodd is angry. A wave of protests by concerned Internet experts, consumers, and the heads of sites like Wikipedia, Craigslist and Google have seemingly derailed the Stop Online Piracy Act and it's companion bill. Those pieces of legislation were central to the legislative agenda of the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group of movie studios that Dodd, the former U.S. senator, now heads.
The industry says they lose millions in pirated movies, songs and other copyrighted materials, and want broad new powers for the Justice Department, including the ability to block entire web domains if they are suspected of facilitating piracy. Such a broad new set of powers, however, could chill the innovation of internet companies and raise a specter of censorship, opponents warn, much to Dodd's consternation.
In taking to the airwaves to vent his frustration with the efforts to kill SOPA, Dodd has often sounded a wee bit hypocritical. He called the blackout of Wikipedia, Craigslist and other sites "petulant" in an interview on NPR last week. This from a senator who made much of his effort, during a doomed run for president, to filibuster a bill giving immunity to telecom companies over his concerns about civil liberties. So a demonstration by private companies and individuals intended to influence their representatives in Washington is "petulant," but filibustering a bill — the legislative equivalent of jamming fingers in ears and braying "I can't hear you" — is fine.
His most recent comments on the matter are a little more impolitic, and seem to rise, some anti-SOPA groups say, to the level of a threat: if you members of Congress want money from Hollywood, you'd better do what we want.
Here's Dodd's remark about those who would accept Hollywood campaign cash but not do the industry's bidding, from a Fox News appearance reported by The Hill:
"Those who count on quote 'Hollywood' for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who's going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don't ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don't pay any attention to me when my job is at stake."
That statement brought condemnation from groups like Public Knowledge and bloggers at TechDirt, who noted that the message from the senator seemed to be a blunt threat to "politicians who aren't corrupt enough to stay bought."
At the very least, it raises a question about the strategy behind Dodd's public advocacy for these bills, which sometimes seems like it could strengthen the hand of his opponents. (A case in point: his previous dismissal of concerns about censorship by pointing out that, hey, the government in China does this too.) It's no fun being on the losing side of a storm of public criticism, especially when the underlying issue is complex, and the motives of all who care about it are varied and sometimes obscure. But then, the co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms already knew that. What's surprising is that Chris Dodd landed his post-public office payday in Hollywood. But he still can't seem to get anyone to write him some better lines.