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Microsoft, Apple and Others Withdrawal Support for SOPA (informationweek.com)
219 points by JDulin on Nov 22, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

Can anyone on the inside explain how this kind of thing works?

This is my thinking:

These companies belong to different trade groups. They pay their dues, contribute opinions on different things, but mostly leave these groups alone and go on doing their actual business.

Meanwhile, the trade groups advance their own agenda, given a mostly free hand by their constituency, which again, has better things to do. The group doesn't actually do all that much that's useful, otherwise their staff would be working for real companies. But they shuffle papers around, undertake activities like, say, harass small businesses about software licenses, and generally look like they have a reason for being.

Then, occasionally, these groups will step in dogshit and have to field a bunch of phone calls basically saying "Why the fuck am I paying you dues in exchange for this bad press? Make it go away."

And then the offending group needs to walk back the cat as happened in this blog post.

Plausible? Is that how this works? The explanation with the most incompetence involved seems most likely to me.

Organizations such as the BSA, are business driven, and thus their policy follows where their money comes from. In this case, the BSA's source of money comes form it's members (Apple, Microsoft.. ect) So it's very likely that some, or all, members were behind this bill. Keep in mind that withdrawing support very well may be a political ploy, SOPA got TONS of negative press, so affiliations such as the BSA may have backed off simply in order to get the public off their back, re-group, and attempt to get a similar, yet less widely criticized bill through. Also, all these companies affiliated with the BSA have long histories of fighting piracy, as they license expensive software, so don't for a second think they are completely on the publics side here.

I don't think we need to dig into specific technicalities of this, especially with our limited knowledge of the hidden, behind-the-curtain power structures. This law was specifically designed to create an internet weapon of suppression of the unwanted. Apple could have use this to suppress jail breaking. Microsoft could use this to suppress Linux. Lobbyists could use this to suppress the Occupy movement. The powers that be as such could use this to destroy the power internet gives to people, first time in history. However for some reason, they have miscalculated - they did not expect this kind of organization, backlash and opposition. Now they are just trying to distance themselves to save what's left of their images.

The reason why they miscalculated is a mystery to me, perhaps they have realized they have let this "internet" thing go way too far, they cannot control it anymore using controlled disinformation techniques, and this was one of their last attempts to stop this trend.

Yes, it's really that bad out there. But it's getting better.

Personally, I agree with all of the points you made here, except for the suggestion that we don't need to dig further. The SOPA bill (still) has a lot of potential to enable Internet censorship, and for something that far-reaching I think it's fairly important to be transparent about the various lobbying groups and their aims.

That sounds pretty plausible to me. Remember that the BSA is an organisation that is in constant danger of looking like a cartel. To avoid giving this impression too strongly, it's quite likely they have a fair degree of autonomy over copyright enforcement policy. After all, the whole reason the BSA exists is to keep its harassment of small businesses at arm's length from its members.

That being the case, it's not entirely surprising that the BSA would support anything that appears to make copyright enforcement easier for them. Nor is it particularly surprising that some of its members would find SOPA in conflict with their other interests and request that the BSA adopt a more nuanced position.

I guess that's just not as much fun as some of the other conspiracy theories I see in this thread.

Don't think for a minute that BSA members aren't acutely aware of what it does in their name. There was a lot of time during which MS, Apple and others could have come forward with a counter position on this.

BSA lobbies on behalf of member companies. The member companies know exactly what they are paying for. None of them are in the habit of throwing money away.

Let's distinguish two possible theories:

1) The underlying companies of the BSA (incl. AAPL and MSFT) were not really in favor of SOPA to begin with, and the public attention has lead them to correct the initial BSA position.

2) The underlying companies of the BSA were in favor of SOPA, which is why BSA supported SOPA. But in the face of public backlash they are backpedaling, because it is not valuable to support a bill that will lose regardless.

The second seems much more likely.

These companies wouldn't pay dues unless they were getting value from it. And I bet most have got an employee whose job it is to follow what these organizations are doing to make sure they're still worth the huge dues.

So no. I imagine almost everything done by a group like this is with the explicit approval, if not at the request, of almost all their members. But by not having to put their name on it they get an out in case it blows up in their face.

I guess the question that gets immediately raised in my mind is: what the heck were these companies doing supporting the damned thing in the first place?

It's like the rats scattering when the light turns on. Is all of corporate America happy to support these egregious pieces of legislation as long as the public doesn't find out?

That last part was mostly rhetorical... mostly.

As I've said elsewhere, conservation of incompetence seems the likeliest explanation. The companies have better things to do, so no one in charge realizes that they're dues paying members of an organization that's advancing a truly moronic cause.

Until the press gets involved, then things get escalated and straightened back out.

Assuming that's in the neighborhood of truth, it highlights the importance of a press free from government and corporate interference.

SOPA is pretty egregious, and it looks like it could get everyone in a lot of trouble given the way someone can merely allege copyright infringement and get a site blacklisted.

Any company with a crucial web presence definitely does not have better things to than stop this bill from being passed.

  > It's like the rats scattering when the light turns on.
Don't insult the rats.

Well, it simply highlights the fact that whilst people may deceive themselves into thinking that what's good for companies is good for everyone (due to increasing of wealth and production), we realise that companies are in it for the people who run the companies, and if there so happens to be some downright abhorrent legislation that may benefit them, they'll support it until it becomes an issue where the net impact will be negative, due to bad press and the like.

It's morality by committee.

Interesting how fast they distance themselves from SOPA now they know we are paying attention. Won't fool me. I only hope the next SOPA, wich will certainly sound less outrageous, in special when compared to this, is met with equal opposition. SOPA is not commendable. Nor will be its offspring.

The word in the title should be "Withdraw", not "Withdrawal"

An explanation would be appropriate if you're downvoting.

I up-voted you, that was the first thing I noticed when reading the title.

I think you mean "Adobe" and not "Apple", since "Apple" is not mentioned anywhere in that article.

According to this page (http://www.bsa.org/country/BSA%20and%20Members/Our%20Members...) Apple is a member.

Yes, a member but it is not mentioned at all in this article.

yumraj's original point still stands.

It's a reference to a previous article that specifically called out Microsoft and Apple as tacit SOPA supporters by virtue of their membership in the BSA.

Wait a second - there is no mention of "Apple" at all in this article (or the one it references).

This idea that BSA's view = Microsoft + Apple's view has always been an utterly ridiculous assumption for the press to make. This posting's title is equally ridiculous for directly equating the two. It's infantile and this kind of fact skewing doesn't belong on HN.

BSA acts independently, but on behalf of it's members. BSA have proven themselves to be a bit nutty when it comes to infringement, so it wasn't surprising that they jumped on SOPA initially.

However, as above, it was already a stretch by the press to connect BSA's view point on SOPA to the idea that all BSA members unanimously supported SOPA.

This sudden change of face from BSA indicates that indeed the members have spoken up and they do not agree with SOPA, and that the entire thing was just a load of fuss to generate clicks.

Companies like Microsoft and Apple also have a significant amount at risk by this wayward legislation.

"The definitions of who can be the subject of legal actions and what remedies are imposed must be tightened and narrowed."

Glad he pointed out the obvious. (not being sarcastic)

This is great news. I think HN and it's members probably helped a lot in making this happen. Give yourselves a pat on the back, you're enacting change!

Or at least preventing change that wouldn't have been good. But of course, this thing will be back next year, probably chopped up into little pieces and inserted into other bills.

Get it rolling, and then distance yourself safely.

That's pretty cynical. If big business is backing out, SOPA is dead. The people don't want it, the politicians don't care either way so long as they get money.

This HN title is inaccurate. There's no evidence that Microsoft or Apple actually supported SOPA. Merely an industry association of which they are members, supported it. This association removed its support.

A more appropriate title would be "Business Software Alliance withdraws support for SOPA."

I'm pretty sure most people on HN who know what SOPA is, know who the BSA is, and if not they'd learn it from reading the article.

I don't think its fair to imply that Microsoft or Apple (or any of the other BSA members) supported SOPA, as it seems likely the BSA was engaging in knee jerk support and didn't consult its membership.

I, personally, think the BSA should strongly opposes SOPA because it doesn't represent the interest of its member companies in the long run. But the title given here is just unfair.

I understand what you are saying and will try to make future HN posts more accurate.

However, the BSA has been the only source of info as to what Apple, Microsoft, and most of the other association members have to say on SOPA. To my knowledge, none of the companies with BSA membership have made any independent statements[1] on the bill, and if so, certainly not on the scale Google did. * My hunch is that the BSA was created for a reason in addition to stopping copyright infringement: To represent these companies without their explicit support, just like any good lobbying company.

If we are considering evidence as to what these companies' positions are, the BSA is the only source we have, and the fact most of them stand to gain from software licenses.

[1] If anyone has seen a BSA member show opposition to SOPA in the past few weeks, I'd like to see.


Another example: RIAA - it does exactly what its member companies want, but they get to distance themselves. Similarly, the MPAA.

The BSA represents its members. How could that not possibly suggest complicit support?

I'm an EFF member and strongly support the overall cause, but also strongly disagree with many of its initiatives and positions. I imagine the situation is similar with regards to the BSA and its members, as it is with any group.

If the EFF announced support for a bill that would negatively change the entire landscape of the internet as we know it, would you still be a member of the EFF? Would you continue paying dues and remain silent on the issue?

And once enough of its members kicked up a fuss, it would probably change its position on that matter.

Sound familiar?

BSA's members only kicked up a fuss once people like you and I started making noise.

Sure, but the point is that being a member of the BSA doesn't imply support of SOPA. Maybe it did yesterday, but it especially didn't a few weeks ago, before this whole thing received so much attention.

The simplest explanation is that the members who were indifferent before, have changed their position in light of the recent "noise". But you can't work backwards and say that those members were originally in support of the bill.

I disagree. I think the point is that being a member of the BSA does imply support of SOPA. Which is the very reason its members were forced to make the BSA change its position.

So, the system works.

It was a grassroots campaign of unaligned users of the internet. People from vastly different professions and backgrounds enacting change through varying means; twitter, direct mail, facebook, google+, blogs, articles, comments etc.

There is no system. That's what makes the internet awesome.

No, and no. But when did the BSA announce support for SOPA directly? I may have missed this, but I never saw anything of the sort.

From the article I assumed we were discussing...

'Holleyman's stance marks a reversal for BSA, which originally supported the bill. In a press statement last month, Holleyman said the bill was "a good step" to "address the problem of online piracy."'

off-topic: what are some of their initiatives and positions you strongly disagree with?

I'm not saying you're wrong, but why then was the "Business Software Alliance" supporting SOPA in the first place? I don't think "knee-jerk support" covers it. There's a political reason there, surely.

If MS/Apple/whoever didn't like it, why weren't they publicly saying so?

Maybe their previous strategy was fully backed by most of their members, maybe some members changed their opinion during the last days, maybe some members were always against their previous strategy, maybe the BSA acted somewhat autonomously until members started waking up, it’s hard to say.

One thing I might be willing to infer from the change in direction is that there was no consensus before and that there still isn’t one. I think it’s very plausible that some members were always against and some always for the BSA’s strategy. Members seemingly also decided to solve this problem internally by lobbying for their position privately inside the BSA.

It's possible that it's all a politics game. Either some weird political stuff with the people that actually run the BSA or some idea like "Let's not speak out against this because it will hurt competitors like Google" (so they implicitly support it by not speaking out against the BSA's support of it).

Guilt by association. I didn't hear Apple or Microsoft threatening to withdraw funding for the BSA in light of this bill.

And yet the BSA has revoked its support. Are you just mad because MS didn't 3-way you in when they called BSA to complain?

Personally I'm mad because Microsoft, Apple, and the rest haven't given an opinion one way or another. Without any official statements I can only assume that they were fully in support of the BSA's actions, but they are backpedaling in light of the public outcry.

the interesting thing about corporations having free speech rights is that one would expect that they might use them when standing up in cases like this. I would agree that Microsoft's silence here is probably tacit support.

> it seems likely the BSA was engaging in knee jerk support and didn't consult its membership.

So, you're saying these companies aren't responsible for their actions because they stand behind an organization that they pay into? Must be nice. I wish I could haphazardly align myself with interest groups and just hope everything works out for me, but if it doesn't, have deniability.

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