I was skeptical last week that Silicon Valley would be organized enough to make a big impact on the discussion of SOPA and PIPA. But it did organize, and the resulting blackout across a number of key sites went a long way yesterday to get the message about SOPA and PIPA out to the public.
The most positive surprise was that Google came out aggressively against SOPA. Google reaches 87.4 million people a day in the United States, according to comScore. By contrast, the AFC Playoffs reached 34 million people; the top-rated series, NCIS, reached only 21 million. The Super Bowl is the only regular event that can reach as many people as Google does every single day.
The participation of Google and Wikipedia was critical to the widespread media coverage of SOPA. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales talked to CNN’s Erin Burnett to explain the fight against SOPA.
But yesterday’s push should be viewed as a beginning, not the end. Because technology is a relatively new industry, few people (including ourselves) understand how large an impact it has.
I was shocked to find that in about 2 years, the iPad already generates more revenue ($20.4 billion) than the entire home entertainment industry ($18.4 billion), including DVD, Blu-Ray, pay movies, online streaming and video-on-demand.
Compare the market capitalization of the top technology companies with the top media companies. The top four media companies combined are worth substantially less than Apple. Even Google, the third largest tech company, is worth more than Comcast, the top media company.
Yet our voice in Congress doesn’t reflect the disproportionate impact that the technology industry has on our economy.
Part of this is because we suck at playing the Washington game; equally important, however, is the fact that Hollywood is really good at it. The Motion Picture Association of America is headed by former Senator Chris Dodd, who said he wouldn’t become a lobbyist after he left Congress. He spent more time in Congress than Mark Zuckerberg has spent on Earth. Those relationships go a long way.
Although yesterday was an historic day, we can’t black out important Web sites every six months or even once a year.
Here are somethings we can do on a regular basis:
- Call people out when they make inaccurate or questionable statements. Tuesday’s Marketplace radio show ended with an unattributed statement claiming that piracy costs “up to $775 billion a year.” It was positioned just as a matter of fact that everyone agrees upon. Repeat it often enough and it becomes true. But that would amount to $110 for every man, woman and child on earth. It’s preposterous, especially when you analyze the different types of piracy. We need to call out these specious claims. The good news is that the better journalists want to know about their mistakes so that they can avoid repeating them. On Wednesday’s show, Marketplace dropped that estimate from $775 billion to $50 billion and had a longer conversation on the difficulty of calculating the cost of piracy losses.
- Ask people to explain why they believe what they do. In many cases, this may force them to give it some thought instead of just going by what someone told them. I called Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office yesterday morning and asked them to explain why the senator supports PIPA. Staffer: We haven’t put out a position paper on that. Me: But she’s listed as a co-sponsor. Staffer: Yes. I’ll note your opposition.
- Conduct our own research on the technology industry’s impact. The MPAA is good at putting forth statistics that overstate the impact of its members. A spokesman for NBC claimed that 80% of Americans supported stronger copyright protection. But without knowing what exactly was asked, it’s impossible to know how valid that statement is. Public opinion polls can be rigged with poorly designed (or intentionally deceptive) questions. Let’s do our own polls, but in an intellectually honest way.
- Hire our own lobbyists to advocate for us in Washington. Although large companies like Google and Facebook already have folks in Washington, startups should look at it, too. This is especially true if a startup is focused on finance, telecommunications, medicine, travel or other services that are regulated. It’s relatively inexpensive — around $6,000 a month will do the trick.
Perhaps the biggest impact of yesterday’s blackout is that other industries will realize our ability to mobilize.
The best way to defeat a bully is to show that you will stand up for yourself. We did that yesterday.
Rocky Agrawal is an analyst focused on the intersection of local, social and mobile. He is a principal analyst at reDesign mobile. Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He blogs at http://blog.agrawals.org and tweets at @rakeshlobster.