Anti-Piracy Legislation Undermines Traditional California Alliances
In a state rife with division, disagreements over how to enforce anti-piracy legislation are separating traditional allies and showing the degree to which money and experience enable influence.
A week after the internet protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA in the House of Representatives) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA in the Senate), the House bill has been all but left for dead and the Senate bill is on shaky ground. (For more background on the bills themselves, see the IP Brief Analysis.) The recent upheaval over the legislation has illuminated the strange political alliances and enemies created in the attempt to prevent pirating. Nowhere is this as evident or the dividing lines as atypical as in California.
California is a strange and wonderful place (full disclosure this author is proud to call California her home state), but it is hardly ideologically cohesive. While most people know of the north/south divide in the state, anyone who has lived in California, or spent much time dealing with its politics will tell you that there are many more salient divides: the coast, the valleys, and the mountains; Los Angeles and the Bay Area; cities and farm land. The state’s size and diversity have birthed many contentious arguments (transportation and water use being some of the fiercest.)
Both the High Tech and Entertainment industries have deep roots in California, and they are frequently found on the same side of progressive causes. The PIPA and SOPA debate has divided the industries and also the members of Congress who represent them. This isn’t so odd for members of the House of Representatives; for the most part the House California Caucus has divided geographically with Bay Area members siding with High Tech and Los Angeles Members siding with Hollywood.
California’s Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer both hail from Northern California, the center of the state’s technological industry; however, both are PIPA sponsors. While industries can frequently count on at least their local Senator’s support on a given matter (all in the name of job creation, votes, and fundraising), with the two sides of this bill represented by the same Senators the internet companies were left without their most natural allies. This can be explained with a skeptical “follow the money.” Each of the senators has received considerably more campaign financing from the entertainment industry than from technology, a common trend within the Senate. Much of this is because high tech is relatively new to the legislative game, especially when compared with the entertainment industry, which is led by the Motion Picture Association of America’s experience and skill.
Prior to last week’s web blackout, it seemed likely that the entertainment industry would prevail. Other bills extending copyright’s reach have been able to pass without fanfare, and during the hearing the few representatives of internet companies had been raked over the coals for not doing more to combat piracy. It was only public outcry that has disabled PIPA’s progress, which Senator Feinstein had been spun into believing had the support of both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Recently the Senator tried to facilitate discussions between the two sides to address their concerns. This seems like a logical place for a Senator who represents so many on both sides to stand, but representatives of the entertainment industry have refused to meet with her and representatives of internet companies, and while she is willing to amend the bill Senator Feinstein is still listed as a co-sponsor of the bill. All this leaves one conclusion to be made, this isn’t left/right politics, or even so much north/south but a money/populist divide.