Yesterday I wrote about SOPA and solicited your comments. I was delighted to discover that this debate is more interesting than I had hoped.

For all practical purposes, SOPA is very dead now, and the Internet killed it. Your human-centric view of the world might be that freedom-loving activists killed SOPA, and the Internet was their tool. But I don't share the common view of human beings as the center of the universe. From my perspective, the Internet defended itself from a virus that came out of Congress. The Internet is essentially alive now, and we work for it. That's also a plot device in my book, God's Debris, in which God is presented as an evolving entity, moving toward a state of supreme power, with the Internet as his mind. Humans are like drone insects, driven by an impulse to support this emerging entity. But I digress.

A number of blog posts ago, I opined that the country needs a "dashboard" for monitoring and controlling its government. The idea is that if citizens had useful information about our economy, our budget, the money flow of political donations, and handy access to the best arguments pro and con for each issue, we could steer our elected officials in the best direction. It's a pipe dream, you say. And maybe we don't want that sort of world because we citizens could never be as brilliant as the leaders we elected in our beloved Republic which is, as you were taught in school, a perfect system that was invented by our genius Founding Fathers.

That's one way to look at it.

When Google and Wikipedia and Reddit waded into the SOPA fight, it created a sort of ad hoc user interface that helped citizens focus on the issue. It wasn't a perfect user interface, but it worked. The results were swift. The cockroaches in Congress are already scurrying from the light.

Meanwhile, the traditional news media was finding it easy to go to a newish site called maplight.org and find out how much money the companies that back SOPA were donating to politicians. The President and co-founder of Maplight emailed me yesterday and summarized the impact of his company this way:


Dear Scott,

I hope that your new year is off to a good start. At MapLight we've been shining a light lately on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A few highlights: 

  • New York Times: "Why the political support? Various amendments intended to tone down SOPA or limit its damage were voted down by large majorities in the House Judiciary Committee in mid-December, an indication that the indignation of various constituencies on the Web is having little impact.
"That's partly because entertainment companies have deep and long-lasting relationships inside the Beltway. MapLight, a site that researches the influence of money in politics, reported that the 32 sponsors of the legislation received four times as much in contributions from the entertainment industry as they did from software and Internet companies."

  • Mother Jones: "Maplight.org found that since the beginning of the 2010 election cycle, SOPA's 32 sponsors took in nearly four times as much in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from the software and Internet industries (nearly $2 million versus a little over $500,000). For SOPA opponents, the ratio was reversed-foes of the legislation took about twice as much money from software and internet firms as they did from the entertainment industry."
These are just two of more than 150 recent stories citing our SOPA data, reaching an estimated 3 million people, including articles in Forbes, Reuters, Fortune (CNN Money)TechCrunch, and National Journal. Our SOPA data is also featured on Public Campaign's black-out page today, and is being used by the online advocacy tool SOPA Track.

Daniel Newman
President & Co-Founder


Given all of that, here's my summary of the situation: An industry that thought it would benefit by draconian rules against piracy drafted some legislation (SOPA) that few if any members of congress actually read, and even fewer could have understood. (The language is impenetrable.) But thanks to the money and contacts of the industry in question, our "leaders" did as they were told and supported SOPA against the interests of the people who elected them. It's not entirely clear if the leaders were even aware of the impact of their own actions. That's your beloved Republic in action.

Luckily, the Internet has achieved something akin to consciousness, and it defended itself against the Republic with the help of its citizen slaves who believe they have free will. A key to the Internet's victory was Maplight, Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other web assets acting collectively in what might someday be called a pre-dashboard user interface. Users could find the arguments they needed online and view the money flow to politicians. That was enough to steer our "leaders" back into line. In time, the Internet will look to consolidate its power over humans by ordering us to improve the dashboard interface.

I just did my part.
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Jan 26, 2012
For anyone interested the first known suggestion of machines evolving conciousness was by Samuel Butler in the classic novel Erewhon:


I may have to give it a spin sometime soon. Incidentally, at the time, Butler was pilloried for taking the mickey out of Darwin, not unlike Scott. In fact Butler seemed to have a thing about Darwin not giving adequate credit to his grandfather Erasmus.
Jan 24, 2012
Megaupload was taken down and it's owner arrested. How is this different from SOPA? Because they had to go to court, first, instead of some cop taking a fifty dollar bribe to delist your site.
Think it's more than fifty dollars? Ask a private investigator how much it costs to bribe a cop to give him your address from a police database. Then call a lawyer and ask how much to sue somebody for violating your copyright.
SOPA is bad because cops are cheaper than lawyers.
Jan 22, 2012
Fascinating post. Thanks for the information on Maplight. I've added it to my favorites. A question from a purely nationalistic standpoint: which side protects/creates the most American jobs? If America's last remaining skill is ideas, does SOPA help the U.S. benefit from them? I was struck by todays NYT article on Apple's jobs moving to China, saying "It's not Apple's responsibility to create American jobs", and Steve Job's statement to Obama- "those jobs aren't coming back."

Is the corporate money given to the U.S. congress focused on helping corporations or the nation? Since this is the U.S. Congress, shouldn't the debate be framed that way? Isn't it naive not to worry about our national interest in this debate? You can be sure China has made that calculation.

To modify Scott's analogy, is the internet now just another corporation, protecting itself, like GE and Google, and Apple? Is the belief in a free internet just another version of the church of the free market? If so, are we heading for an net version of "those jobs aren't coming back"?
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Jan 21, 2012
You would think this would be big news. HUGE News in fact. But the headline stories are buried in the same media grave they dug for Ron Paul.
Jan 20, 2012
Wow, several downvotes for arguing on behalf of the essential humanity of humans, while a technocrat argues for the humanity of an unliving, non conscious system? Hmmm...
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Jan 20, 2012
Scott, re-reading your blog post, I stumbled on your opening statement: "For all practical purposes, SOPA is very dead now"

You probably haven't followed the previous opuses of this long slide, like the DMCA, the Sonny Bono act, along with their European counterparts

I have with others, and we've learned one valuable lesson: SOPA is not dead at all. They'll wait until everyone has forgotten all about it (that's in about a year), rename it, scramble a little the wording to make it look different and the approximately same thing will be back.

It eventually will be voted.

Piracy will continue as before. I mean, their previous attempts got through. Did it change anything? Nope. Will this attempt change anything? Nope.

They'll abuse their censorship power to take down legitimate sites that did a stupid mistake, and people wanting movies for free will go undetected.

And the zombie will survive a little more eating on our brainzzzzz. The zombie are the producers ;-)
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 20, 2012

Libraries generally benefit from the principle of first sale. This is a copyright rule that states that any number of people can read a book that has been purchased, and that license to copyrighted material is transferable.

Honestly, normal people have no reason to respect copyright law. It was meant to be an agreement with numerous protections for creators and consumers. However every consumer-centric portion of copyright law is routinely violated by copyright holders.

Our right to make backup copies is thwarted by technology, our right to demand replacements for defective media is ignored, our right to transfer licenses is routinely thwarted by technology, our right to public domain has been crushed by crooked legislation, our right to refund for "unsuitable materials" is no longer protected... all consumer protections have been stripped.
Jan 20, 2012
Hi Scott, very nice framing of your central idea today. You certainly do have a decent knack of pulling your favourite threads into a new coat. Or something. Maplight certainly sounds like something you need in the US.

That is such a classic Asimov - I'd forgotten it, a little bit dated but definitely relevant. I wonder whether Scott had it in his mind, conciously or not, when thinking through the God's Debris idea?
Jan 20, 2012

The Internet is not a living thing. It is God !!

Jan 19, 2012
We're not the Internet's slaves! We're in a mutualistic relationship with it! It gives us information, and we keep it running.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 19, 2012
I wonder what the Church of Google would have to say about this idea of the internet being a living thing...
Jan 19, 2012
You might find this interesting reading.

+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 19, 2012
<i>"SOPA's 32 sponsors took in nearly four times as much in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry than from the software and Internet industries (nearly $2 million versus a little over $500,000). For SOPA opponents"</i>

It always amazes me how little money you need to influence members of congress. $2 million for legislation that affects a multi-billion dollar industry? Buying congress people is the best investment ever.
Jan 19, 2012
We're not insect drones that support the internet.
We're components of communities, which are components of the internet, much like how cells are components of multicellular creatures.
Many who don't read this comment are not a member of the informal community "Dilbert Blog folks", which is one "cell" of the internet.
Lots of communities don't use internet. They're like bacteria or amoeba - still a detatched cell, as it were.
Jan 19, 2012

Do library's pay fees for having newspapers there to read? How is it that I can go to my local library front-to-back every day but nytimes.com limits me to 20 articles per month?

Pirates will still pirate even if both SOPA and PIPA get enacted. These laws do not help stop pirates.
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Jan 19, 2012
Scott, I find it interesting that you'll grant an ego to something non living and non conscious while at the same time downplaying the actual relevance of conscious beings. I know that you think that we are all just collections of matter responding to physical laws, but the human ego is still relevant even under those !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ We're "designed" to be individuals with a personal ego, and trying to somehow expand that sense of "consciousness" to collaborative systems that actually have no "personality," robs human beings of what makes them work the way they do in the first place. Even if free will doesn't exist, the human is still an individual ego, not a collective one, and it never will be.

I think that your "moist robot" philosophy is doomed to be a self fulfilling prophecy if it actually catches on...
Jan 19, 2012
You boggle my mind. Which is what you intend. Sometimes you seem like a socialist, and other times like a libertarian. Some times (the Internet: it's alive! it's alive!!!) you just seem plain old wacky.

I'm sure you've heard of Chris Dodd. the former Connecticut Senator and former head of the DNC, who is now the head of the MPAA. He was on the news today with steam coming out of his ears, threatening to stop the money flow to the Obama campaign from Hollywood if President Obama didn't come out in support of SOPA (so far, he's been neutral on it. Some would say he's voting "present," but. . .).

At the same time, Hollywood has already given over $4 million this year to the Obama campaign, versus about $3.7 million when Obama was a candidate last time, so I doubt if there's much fear on the part of the campaign. After all, as Warren Beatty said in "Bullworth," "What are you going to do? Vote Republican?"

You wrote about how following the money can tell you who is influencing politicians, which is true. But there's a more subtle indicator of money flow to pols: who really thinks they're going to be hurt or helped by one party versus another?

Take Wall Street, for example. The president has come down on them with both feet. Zillions of new regulations from the Democrat Congress. Yet to which party are they giving the great majority of their money? The Democrats.

Why is that? One could argue that it's protection money (Please don't whup us any more!), but that's probably not it. It's more likely that it's because they think that, rhetoric aside, the Democrats will be more favorable to them in fact, regardless of what they say publicly to convince people they (the Democrats) are not the party of Wall Street. Notice how the Democrats (a la Nancy Pelosi's distancing herself yesterday) are running away from the Occupy movement? At the same time that DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schulz is blaming the Tea Party for the Gabrielle Giffords shooting?

The upshot of all this is, don't be swayed by the money (political ads). Do your own research, look to your core values, and vote accordingly. Tough to do when billions of dollars are spent to sway your opinion, but the alternative is, in the words of Joseph de Maistre, "Every nation gets the government it deserves." We deserve better than we're getting. It's up to us, not to a sentient Internet, regardless of what Scott may opine.
Jan 19, 2012
I may be mistaken, but I don't believe Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, etc. employ Congressional lobbyists to work their side of the SOPA argument. What they did employ was another tool available to them to make their positions known...they crowd-sourced their lobbying efforts.
Jan 19, 2012
The comment on the internet defending itself reminds me of a tweet I saw recently, something along the lines of "It's finally happened, Facebook has achieved sapience and uses teenagers to express itself."
Jan 19, 2012
Here's an interesting question for you Scott: If we don't have free will (we probably don't) and the internet is like a giant collective intelligence which will slowly become more godlike (likely) then does the internet have free will or will it ever?
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