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Alexis Ohanian vs NBC - Debating SOPA (msn.com)
233 points by sethbannon on Jan 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

A summary for those who don't have 18 minutes:

1. Excellent introduction and overview of the debate by Chris Hayes

2. NBC General Counsel makes three interesting (cringe-worthy) points:


-this only applies to international sites

-the internet is a lawless place

3. He is mostly shot down by Hayes who said if it really only applied to international rogue sites then people wouldn't be making such a big deal about it

4. Alexis makes the points:

-the problem of piracy will best be solved by innovation, not legislation

-the internet is not a "lawless" place and the DMCA is effective

-"piracy is a service problem" ie, if you provide better access to information you will win

5. Random other dude chimes in and says the government did a massive study and can't conclusively say that piracy is killing jobs at all... the entertainment industry is actually growing

6. NBC GC talks a little bit more, mostly being hysterical about how piracy is rampant and terrible.

Great job Alexis!!

Thanks for the recap and all the comments below; I'm doing a heavy post-mortem on this.

I really didn't expect him to so adamantly lie like that. And then to first be called out by Chris about it and boldly say "Chris, seriously, that is wrong" and then declare that we're making it up -- that takes stones.

I'd really love to know what the best way to confront this in such a format (my first time doing live TV debate).

Is it:

"No, you're wrong. Anti-circumvention provisions affect US sites, US sites with foreign domain names (like .it) are affected, and US companies who would have to remove links from search results are all examples of how you're wrong."

I worry I've lost the average TV viewer by the second sentence.

And then there's dealing with someone interrupting you... I'm curious to see what the HN community thinks about optimally handling that one.

This law is too complicated for the average TV viewer to understand. Debating it on the merits is going to make you lose. You have to find counterpoints that the average TV viewer WILL understand. They have to fit comfortably in a tweet.

When they say, "This is a jobs bill," you say, "This is a typical big government attempt to meddle in something they don't understand."

When they say, "This won't affect American sites," you say, "Search engines don't pirate movies. Neither do Visa or Paypal. Going after them is just unfair." [Note: Search engines. Not DNS. The minute you say DNS you lose.]

When they say, "Google profits from pirated software," you say, "Not as much as the congressmen are profiting from the $95 million dollars in lobbyist money that paid for this bill."

Other talking points: "How come congress can't seem to agree on anything that matters to the country? Unemployment, the deficit... they're totally gridlocked. But when the entertainment industry pays lobbyists $95 million to get a bill they wrote passed, both Republicans and Democrats line up to co-sponsor it."

Trying to say something that actually gets to the merit of the bill is a waste of time on a Sunday morning talk show... it's just too complicated an issue.

I completely agree. Alexis was dominated in this in a few ways.

1. The exec was a complete ass and Alexis didn't call him out for being rude and condescending of alternative interpretations. There was a lot of potential to completely bankrupt his opinion using other perspectives from individuals with less at stake in the fight then this executive.

2. As you pointed out, his counter points were too dense for natural consumption by "average" americans. Its not just DNS but the internet in general is mostly an entertainment to most Americans. You critique of the language modifications that have to happen is dead on.

3. Mr. Cotton had one point and Alexis seemed to wander all over. Judicial process + wholesale theft + non-domestic vs. (Alexis') dense and theoretical arguments revolving around feasibility and implementation.

As tech people, we can all agree that this is important. With out the soundbites, we'll never get the critical mass to prevent this. Alexis did do a good job of maintaining his composure with the really inconsiderate tactics. Just needs to put together a few key "talking points" and hammer. Thats the way this works in these news formats.

I agree with Joel.

I'd further argue that the key talking point should be something like:

This is a battle between old established interests who have long controlled congress's wallet versus the leading innovators in the United States.

Who do you want leading technology decisions in this country? Congress and cable providers or Google/Apple/Facebook/Microsoft?

Follow the money. It's as simple as that. There's a reason why every innovative tech company in this country is against it. This will stifle innovation. Follow the money and you'll see how old established industries who have fought innovation for years are the same ones pushing this bill down the throats of the American people.

Second this. When they say it's a jobs bill, counter with something like this is sending more people to jail bill or shutting small American businesses down bill.

Tell them how one server can be hosting hundreds of American businesses. If one store in your mall is selling fake Nikes, imagine if the entire mall would be raided and shut down?

This bill does that. This bill shuts down the entire mall because of one bad store. Hundreds and thousands of American businesses can be shut down for no reason leaving even more people unemployed.

I understand how much we want to argue about free speech and dns filtering. But welcome to politics. This is where we learn from these folks: talk about the topic of the day. Today, that is jobs. Find an angle to link this shit to jobs. The opposition certainly did. We haven't quite(you made some headway by talking about Ford).

Sadly, I think Joel is right. Format is designed for soundbites.

Thanks, gents. I think this really nails it (I second your sadness).

Numbers about hulu accelerating revenue for the movie industry and actually combating the free pirated ones with a better service might have been a good counter-point followup.


Coming up with easily digestible tweet-size slogans targeting the average TV viewer is not a game we can win. The media will always win at that game. We can't win in the money game either.

I see one thing that could defeat this: convincing smart people who have the ear of Congress that this really is bad. I don't think we have convinced those people. Some may interpret that as corrupt Congress ignoring the people again, but I interpret that as maybe our arguments against it aren't really all that great.

Congress is going to to see these slogans just as they do the "SOPA will break the internet" stories.

Maybe our only real complaint is that we don't want Congress meddling with our Internet and that reason just isn't good enough to convince anyone?

I wonder if holding something in your hands would help. For example, you could hold up a printed study and respond with, "I'm holding in my hands a government report that says otherwise."

I've done two stints on Fox News. The best way to prepare is to watch a lot of Fox News. You will see a lot of people bald-face lying about a lot of things. Fox has advanced lying to a fine art. (Yes, I know this was MSNBC, but Fox is the master.)

You're right, if you spew a bunch of technospeak you will lose the audience. It is important to remember that you are engaging in a performance, not a debate. You might want to consider taking some acting lessons.

The most important thing is: don't get emotional. Don't get indignant. Use a tone of voice that you would use with a child who has told you a fib (or made a mistake). So, for example, don't say "That's a lie." Instead say something like, "No, that is simply not true" and then immediately follow that with a short citation that shows it's not true. Example, "SOPA only affects foreign companies." Response, "No, that's simply not true. Section blahdeeblah specifically refers to U.S. companies..." or whatever. Then immediately transition to one of your own talking points. "And even if it were true that the letter of the legislation exempted U.S. companies (which it doesn't) that would be nearly unenforceable because the jurisdictional boundaries on the internet are unclear..." or whatever.

The second most important thing: know what they are going to say before they say it, and have your answers ready. A crucial part of the performance is appearing secure in your position, and any hesitation or stumble hurts you. So be prepared for them to lie. Expect them to lie. Study their arguments ahead of time so you know in advance what the lies will be. This is not hard to do. The lies are carefully crafted and scripted, and it's unlikely that you will hear one that hasn't made an appearance somewhere before.

I'd be happy to do some debate prep with you if you like.

Thank you. While I've encountered the lies online, it's another kind of shocking when it's to your face, with cameras rolling. I learned a valuable lesson, albeit a depressing one -- I'll be ready the next time. Granted, I'd much rather be thinking about my startups right now, but so it goes.

>The most important thing is: don't get emotional. Don't get indignant. Use a tone of voice that you would use with a child who has told you a fib (or made a mistake).

This, absolutely. For some inspiration on this point, one of the best real-life examples of someone keeping cool on a heated debate show, and neutralizing his opponent in so doing, was John Kerry vs. John O'neil on the Dick Cavett show in 1971.

O'neil opens with a three minute tirade, calling Kerry a 'little man' and 'coward' among other things:


Kerry responds in a completely unreactive, nonplussed, measured manner, and supports his case with data:


Regardless of your opinions on his politics, that's the way to handle such a situation - unreactive, unresponsive, data-driven.

Regarding SOPA, there are a couple points to keep hammering home:

1. The people pirating movies would not otherwise be paying for them if they couldn't get them for free. They just wouldn't buy them. Many of them lack the disposable income, or they are foreigners circumventing DVD region restrictions, or they're just doing it because it's available, etc. (Can you make a supporting case for that with the data? I'm not familiar enough with the issue and available data here.)

2. Businesses that provide innovative delivery options are booming - iTunes Music/TV/Movies, Amazon MP3, Netflix. Torrenting media, even MP3s, is enough of a pain that people will pay for a good user experience (a/v quality, reliability, on-demand, etc., everything torrents lack). Sometimes people will even buy high quality versions of stuff they've torrented and really liked. Companies that take advantage of that opportunity are rolling in it.

3. The content industry has fought every delivery innovation ever - radio, TV, VCR, and now even the Internet. Are we really going to let them compromise the greatest platform for social, political, educational, technological, and business innovation ever created, over a shortsighted attempt to squash the genie back into the bottle so they don't have to adapt and adjust?

As long as no one challenges the assertion that piracy is this terrible thing and the only way to deal with it is to censor the Internet, they'll keep coming back and back until they finally get what they want. On the off chance you haven't read Tim O'reilly's argument on this point, it's well worth it:


and followup:


I think Joel is 100% correct in saying that this law will fly right over the heads of the average TV viewer if it's debated on technical merit alone.

Regarding the lying: you're going to have to expect that. This is a fight the media industry feels is worth winning at the expense of the truth. When confronted with it however it will always look best to give a level-headed and reasoned response. You have the moral high ground and you should keep it.

The same point above applies to being interrupted etc. I think you'll look much more in control and certainly more comfortable if you keep to the format. Having to run interference while your opponent is making their point looks weak. Wait your turn and look professional.

Keep up the excellent work Alexis!

Hit back on the bogus jobs claim. What do you think creates more jobs, the dying business of distributing media in physical form, or the Internet? Americans don't want Congress interfering with the Internet -- it's the one positive and reliable source of job creation in our country. This bill will harm or destroy many young innovative businesses like Reddit in order to save a few old unneeded middlemen who don't know how to innovate.

I'm no expert on debates, but I was paying significantly more attention to your message simply because he was being so rude and obstinate.

For your part, you did extremely well to not even acknowledge that he was trying to interrupt you at all.

But of course, I walked in with a bias on the subject.

Echoing cbo a little bit, I agree that you did well dealing with the NBC GC's interruptions - you were steady even when he was trying to jump in, and as long you have a reasonably effective moderator (like Chris in this segment), you will be heard. Creating that contrast is important - rather than letting it escalate on both sides, you get points for sincerity over obstinacy.

> my first time doing live TV debate

If you were at all nervous about that, it didn't show. Most people (myself included) cannot speak truth to power so easily without being visibly phased. From your comment it sounds like you know the bill to a T, so my one criticism would be that you could have conveyed very unambiguously that he was wrong on three counts (with respect to the bill not affecting US sites). The details that follow might be lost on the audience, but the "wrong on three counts" is what people will walk away with.

In these kinds of debates there's also something about putting on the table the topics that are important for your camp (our camp) not just rebuffing the ones set out by the others.

> Mr Cotton mentioned due process a few times

How exactly does BensFreeMovies.eu (I made that site up) hosted in Netherlands get due process from being potentially banned by the US courts?

If we want to maintain the sanctity of due process then that works both ways and we have to give the defendant the chance to represent themselves. What if that entity's management are nationals of a country not normally allowed to enter the US?

> This is costing jobs

How does stopping Americans from accessing pirating assets that are perceived to be American-owned, but hosted on a foreign site, really help save jobs? The rest of the world can still access said content. SOPA is just about covering the US entertainment industry's eyes so they can't see the pirated content - it doesn't actually make the content go away.

Etc. I would fight back on these kinds of points rather than the trying to philosophically debate at a higher level, sadly. This is how you win hearts and minds with the 'normal' people because you can demonstrate flaws that they can more easily relate to.

I was thinking about defending against lies overnight.

When they lie, you need to quote a chapter and verse. Viewers will take the assertion of whoever sounds like they know the bill best as the truth. If you list section/subsection numbers and recite part of the bill, it will make you more credible than him. If you just memorize a few small parts verbatim you can win the battle.

When they are rude, you need to say something that calls them out on talking over you and evokes sympathy, but isn't rude. The best I have so far in this regard is "Mr. Smith, if I could just be allowed to finish, Mr. Smith, I'd like to add..." But I think a better response is possible that meets the criteria.

Hehe. You and me both. I woke up realizing how much I enjoy mediamatters for calling out this stuff after the fact, while also realizing how little it matters when it's that late.

Should I get the chance again, I'm going to be ready for whatever madness they throw at me.

I emailed the email address on your blog a copy of this, in case you didn't revisit the thread. That's how obsessed I was. :-)

edit: just saw your response. Thanks!

Here's a decent soundbite: how about stressing the threat that SOPA poses to the internet's power to connect the world?

The foundation of the web is links. SOPA attacks any internet company that links to sites that host copyrighted content. Well, Google links to sites that host copyrighted content. So does Reddit, and so does any other company that allows the public to create and post content.

Our founders called this nation the United States of America. United. They knew that where their is unity and community, there is power.

By persecuting companies for linking to illegal content, SOPA threatens the unity and connectivity that the internet provides.

Another option kn0thing: SOPA poses a serious threat to freedom on the internet.

When an internet company like Reddit, HN or Facebook gives its users the freedom to post content, it gives its users the freedom to post anything they like. SOPA introduces the fear that a user might post something illegally. If SOPA passes, web companies could be forced to disallow user freedom altogether.

Invaluable resources like Wikipedia have been created by allowing user freedom. Who knows what incredible resources user freedom could lead to in the future?

By persecuting companies when its users post copyrighted content, SOPA threatens freedom on the internet.

TV viewers really don't care about freedom on the internet or at least not as much as you think they do. And emphasizing it only gives credence to their "lawless internet" point.

Television is not about debate, it's about sound bites.

Television is not about facts, it's about communicating feelings and emotions. It's about painting an image of your opposition.

Memes we need to spread:

The moguls and their political puppets that support these bills are dinosaurs.

These bills were written by lawyers who don't understand that this will break the internet.

These bills are created by "media moguls" or "media elite" afraid of innovating.

SOPA / PIPA needs to be painted as radical and extremist.

Computers and the internet have been the backbone of innovation and economic growth the past 20 years.

The censorship meme (sadly) doesn't matter to Middle America. We need to drop it.

I'd suggest the following talking points and sound bites for the next debate:

-"Kauffman Foundation says that 2/3 of new jobs are created by high growth technology startups. This bill breaks the internet, and kills startups that could be the next Facebook, YouTube, Google or Ebay."

-When faced with the lying... "Are Google, Twitter, Facebook, Ebay, Yahoo all lying then?"

-"Media companies and their lobbyists tried to kill VHS, the cassette recorder, the phonograph, the MP3 player and now... now, they are trying to kill the internet. They were wrong then. They're wrong now."

-"The people who created this bill are lawyers not engineers. They don't understand how the internet works."

-"SOPA and PIPA are radical copyright protectionism"

-"SOPA and PIPA are corporate welfare of the worst kind, protecting industries that are afraid of innovation"

-"We are in the worst economic conditions in a century. This the the worst possible time to ram through radical legislation created to protect media moguls sitting on mountains of cash".

-"In this terrible economy, we need to do everything we can to support technology companies who are one of the few bright spots in this economy"

And... for what it's worth... after we beat SOPA / PIPA, we need a Startup PAC to take a proactive long view on educating legislators and their staffers on these issues, rather than constantly reacting to awful legislation like SOPA/PIPA.

> the DMCA is effective

I love this: keep pushing things further out of whack and all of a sudden the previous onerous policies start looking pretty good. The DMCA takedown provisions do give the little guy some power to defend copyright without going to federal court, but there is little recourse when abuse occurs and many of the other provisions of the act were a pure profit taking by industry giants.

Seriously. 10 years ago calling the DMCA effective would have made you "one of them". Now we seem to be championing it.

It's important to remember the DMCA has two major provisions. The anti-circumvention provision is pure evil. The notice-and-takedown safe harbor was a pretty good compromise.

"The notice-and-takedown safe harbor was a pretty good compromise."

10 years ago? No it was not. It only seems ok to a perspective that has been warped by exposure to SOPA.

The concept of the Overton window has rarely seemed to clear


Well, several of the more insane parts have been struck down in the intervening years, so it actually is more palatable today.

As long as DMCA takedowns still exist I will refuse to describe it as "palatable".

That's nice. Meanwhile, amongst people who engage in the production of IP, DMCA takedowns are a reasonably fair, easily challengeable method for dealing with copyright infringement.

The anti-circumvention parts of the DMCA are insane, but the takedown stuff isn't bad and benefits the little guy just as much as the big guy.

You're insane. DMCA takedowns have such absurd abuse potential that it completely overshadows any perceived "benefit" for "people who engage in the production of IP". To say that "big guys" and "little guys" are on equal footing with takedowns is to be willfully ignorant of reality.

This completely ignores the blatant due process issues.

Aside: WTF? Everyone produces "IP". These are not a separate class of people.

>"Aside: WTF? Everyone produces "IP". These are not a separate class of people."

I think he meant "people who produce IP professionally" or "people who earn a living off their IP". Certainly between here and reddit and other sites I've probably produced hundreds of pages of stuff, some of it even borderline insightful, and I'd be pissed if someone stole it, but it doesn't pay my rent or buy my dinner.

The DMCA provides that if you send a counter-claim, the content will be put back up.

> To say that "big guys" and "little guys" are on equal footing with takedowns is to be willfully ignorant of reality.

I'm not saying it's perfect, and I don't know overall whether I like that it exists or not. But I also don't see how it's as much of a problem as people make it out to be, and I don't see how it only favors the big guys.

Let's say you're a small time photographer, and someone steals your pictures and posts them online. A DMCA claim and you can have them taken down. That is in the interest of small folks, who may not be able to hire lawyers or file law suits in whatever jurisdiction is necessary to prevail.

You ignore the reality of the situation.

Pure opinion, like this, with no explanation or justification, adds nothing to the discussion.

I have explained why I believe it helps small and large business equally. If you'd like to have a discussion, I invite to explain why you think what you think, and open yourself to criticism by the community.

What you think is the "reality of the situation" requires explanation. If you aren't willing to provide that explanation, this discussion forum may not be a good fit for you.

"small and large business equally."

Who said anything about businesses?

The reality that a counter-claim is simple to make (I've done them) and the problem by and large quickly evaporates?

That reality? Because you're not entitled to your own.

The reality is that the counter-notice process can leave content down for two full weeks. This means that a DMCA takedown can be used to silence important, time-sensitive information. Imagine there's an upcoming referendum on some major issue. The party with more lawyers can send DMCA notices to all the sites, YouTube videos, etc. opposing their view of the referendum a week before the vote, preventing voters from obtaining critical information.

FWIW, a counterclaim on YouTube took about two hours to process when I had to do one due to an incorrect DMCA claim. That may not be representative, but it was pretty quick.

It's certainly possible that actions like those you outline (which essentially amount to barratry) could happen. I never said that the content provisions were perfect; I'm not a big fan of some language and some behaviors that are in the content takedown sections of the DMCA. It could certainly be modified and improved, and I'd be all for that. But I'd argue that it, as-is, remains a useful course of action for the "little guy" IP producers who essentially have no other recourse, and that that outweighs the abuses perpetuated by a small group of content creators.

The reality where hosting companies and ISPs cave immediately to the side that has more lawyers. The reality where companies spray DMCA takedowns to intimidate lone hackers they dislike, in situations they would never dare actually take that person to court under. The reality where large companies form backroom deals to "streamline" DMCA takedowns so that dissident voices can be silenced with a keypress, limiting exposure.

"That reality? Because you're not entitled to your own."

Ok troll. Fuck off.

Which ones are those?

-"piracy is a service problem" ie, if you provide better access to information you will win

I see this argument time and again and as much as I agree with it, it just doesn't sound very convincing to the mainstream argument against piracy. This is gonna be a huge-ass debate and HN, in some ways, is preparing ground for our folks. One of the things I hope we will do is be dicks and challenge the arguments laid out by folks we like and support, including Alexis, so that the next time they go on, they are better prepared.

I know personally when I prepared for debates in debate class, I'd purpose take a completely opposite position to my own and try to crush my own arguments. It helped me lots - better me crushing nuances in my arguments than my opponents.

To play devil's advocate, here's a counter:

Indeed, piracy may be a service problem. But that does not keep it from also being an enforcement problem. Even in the best case scenario where we have optimal innovation, piracy will require enforcement. We believe there isn't enough of enforcement right now. This has little to do with innovation.

I agree. In particular I don't find the efficacy argument very strong. Making murder against the law doesn't stop it either, does that mean we should just let it go?

China also knows that their censoring doesn't stop everyone, but it stops an awful lot of people. So saying it's not going to work and then criticizing China for censorship feels like talking out of both sides of our mouth.

The broader implications are that his has a chilling effect on any type of user generated content and free speech in general.

It turns international business entities into enforcement arms for the government. Particularly problematic is that it's an attempt to extend the reach of our laws into jurisdictions with different laws and to do so through a business. People get all fired up when someone violates one of our laws, but they don't like it when China or Muslims attempt to push their laws into our jurisdictions.

There are some pretty big differences between the way the US and Chinese ISPs and societies are organized. In order to make net censorship work, you'd have to turn the US into China in the process. No thank you.

I think the argument here is that the Internet was invented, developed, and commercialized in the US and Western Europe (and not in China) precisely because our belief in freedom of communication provided the room for the explosion of communication technology (and all the jobs that enables). If it had been heavily regulated and litigated as SOPA/PIPA propose, it would have taken off somewhere else.

Attempts to regulate the flow of information always sound like a great idea to those who propose them. But (aside from it being contradictory to our fundamental values as a nation) what no one can predict is what future revolutionary innovations it will be killing off.

>Even in the best case scenario where we have optimal innovation, piracy will require enforcement.

I disagree. Copyright, at least in the US, was created as a tool to encourage innovation. If innovation is at its maximum potential, there is no need for more enforcement.

> I see this argument time and again and as much as I agree with it, it just doesn't sound very convincing to the mainstream argument against piracy.

People need to be shown, not told. Look at iTunes: it came after Napster, when everyone knew how to get MP3s for free. Or the O'Reilly Safari.

Part of the problem is that many businesses don't know how to adapt. Maybe some of them simply aren't capable of doing that for whatever reason. Thing is, I'm convinced that they have to, for their own survival, because I don't believe that piracy will be stopped any time soon, SOPA or no SOPA. So I think the best way to help them recover is to help or convince them move to new ways of doing business, but that's a pretty tall order.

Quite right. Especially using Valve -- a company that refuses to disclose anything substantive, but could* play the reddit community, who worships it, like a fiddle -- as the prime example that it's a service problem isn't particularly convincing and should be challenged.

* I say 'could'...whether they do or not is unknown to me.

In this context, it's a rhetorical mistake to even engage _their_ concern. They're talking about circumventing core technical and political principles. Who cares why they're doing it? It's stupid, incompetent and dangerous.

Once everyone agrees DNS filtering is just wrong, _then_ we can talk about their problems. Otherwise we're just being held hostage.

And if that means fewer people care about copyright, well, it's their job to make people care about copyright for the right reasons. Not because they'll otherwise blow things up.

Once everyone agrees DNS filtering is just wrong, _then_ we can talk about their problems.

Your response is a perfect example of why we are failing the communication war. We simply want to get to the technical end: dns filtering is wrong.

Meanwhile, the opposition is saying: SOPA means more US jobs. You tell me which idea has a better chance of sticking in the average consumer's mind?

A better counter would be something like: SOPA means Americans going to jail for watching a YouTube video. Let them counter with "that's not true!". Well, it is as true as saying SOPA means more jobs.

It's a mistake to get into a shouting match with someone who has the money to shout much louder than you.

Not really sure what you mean by that.

If we answer their lies with our lies, observers have to sort their way through a huge muddle. At that point, the contest comes down who can get their message out the best. And showbiz has the money, and the interest, to buy a lot more airtime than the SOPA opponents.

When you're right, you want to move the argument to principles and facts. You don't want the debate muddled, b/c the more people know the likelier they are to agree with you.

(Unless you mean that Youtube really does mean jail? I haven't tracked the less bad parts of the bill so closely.)

Indeed it is a service problem, one that Hollywood has faced time and time again. Hollywood's bottom line each time only increased, once they finally were force to innovate.

Innovation is the answer and without innovating they are just losing millions/billions of dollars due to their foolishness!

Create an Internet license where each site who distributes and or facilitates distribution pays up!

Near the very end, Rick Cotton, claims that SOPA would not be restrictive on US businesses and states that "the only thing that can happen is that a search engine or a credit card company has to respond with respect to a specific [foreign] site ... after a judge has made a specific finding after a full due process...", etc.

If that is true, the act seems ineffective. How hard would it be to shut down The Pirate Bay and open up an identical site like The Buccaneer Bay, followed by the Corsair Bay etc?

Of course this may invite another round of legislation, which would contain more severe provisions...

... or it could be that Cotton is just wrong.

The word "Piracy" was mentioned so many times in this post that I can't resist:

Copyright infringement is not "Piracy". The special interests that brainwashed the masses into using the term "Piracy" have scored a major win.

Every time you use the term "Piracy" you play by their rules.

The situation is the same with the P-A-T-R-I-O-T act. Every time you pronounce it simply as "Patriot Act" - you are playing by the rules of those who crated it.

That was absolutely frustrating to watch. Alexis is a well-spoken guy with cogent points to make, but I think he was outmatched in that debate by a guy with way more media experience. Richard Cotton stuck to his deceptive, populist talking points ("jobs", "wholesale theft", "will not affect a single US site") to great effect.

Alexis will get better as he continues to appear in the media, and I'm sure he's getting media coaching, but he needs to be more aggressive in, for example, telling Richard Cotton to shove it when he rudely interrupts.

It's as simple as "Richard, Richard... I let you speak, now let me finish my point. The problem with..."

Still, props to Alexis for actively fighting against these awful, awful bills!

Alexis never said why anyone should object to the bill. So what if it's completely circumventable? Saying stuff like "what concerns me most is it won't work" doesn't make sense -- isn't the most concerning thing DNS breakage? [EDIT: Concerning to everyday users. Me, I'm most worried about censorship -- but that is not the catchiest argumet.] And when Cotton says stuff like "that's wrong" -- twice -- Alexis has to explain how "that's right", quickly and unambiguously. Or the viewer will begin to presume that Cotton is right on the facts. Whereas if he's refuted, or has to explain the sense in which he's right, he's the one on the defensive.

Cotton knew his brief, and the presentation of that brief, much better than Alexis did his. Add in decades of political and rhetorical training and this isn't even a fair fight.

Guys like Cotton can be beaten, but only with 1) a much better case on the facts and 2) a complete mastery of the presentation of that case. This is a long way from home.

EDIT: One of the hardest things in what Alexis is doing is having people criticize how he's doing it. I congratulate him for putting himself out there for his principles and his community. He's up against people who have spent their entire lives training in interested (as opposed to principled) advocacy. He can be a lot better at this, and he can win -- after all, he's right! But he has to get a lot better at the execution.

> Alexis never said why anyone should object to the bill.

Exactly. Alexis was making an emotional appeal. "It scares me, it concerns me". Why? I'm most of the way through the debate and I didn't hear any arguments against Cotton's point.

Wikipedia seems to agree that it's only foreign sites:

> The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement


So what is the expected impact on US sites?

Wikipedia also seems to agree that the burden of the sanctions are quite high. There needs to be a court finding that a site is facilitating copyright infringement (perhaps not a full finding, like the closure of a case; but an intermediate finding).

Though I'm a technophile, I haven't followed this debate much at all until watching the MSNBC video. I found myself relatively influenced towards Cotton's side -- and a brief investigation seems to suggest that his points are correct. What am I missing?

I agree that, even if Cotton's points are true there may still be harmful consequences from the bill. But it seems we would be having an entirely different discussion depending on whether we agree on whether Cotton's points are factual.

I believe the answer is that the bill _targets_ foreign sites, but requires _domestic_ sites to obscure those targets. That's the sanction mechanism. Failure to comply creates liability.

This forces DNS nameservers into censorship administration.

It breaks DNS as users seek name service not engaged in censorship. That means fewer DNS servers, outside US territory, which means less cross-checking (ie, easier fraudulent imitation), less reliability and slower name service. It also means breaking security measures based on back-checking IP addresses with domain names.

EDIT: Those are the _technical_ problems. The civil liberties problem is the effective excommunication of bad actors, by some particular definition. People doing X are prevented from communicating with others. Well, here X is blatant and cynical copyright infringement. But what of X as incitement, or unpopular opinion? Even if the US were immune to such impulses, doing this for copyright gives China precedent for their censorship "in the interest of stability" and "to avoid irresponsible inaccuracy".

This bill also puts US companies at a serious disadvantage internationally. Imagine a Canadian Paypal. They wouldn't have restriction like this (yet, it will surely follow as the US puts a lot of pressure on Canada in these subjects). This would make the Canadian site a lot more attractive to both American and international customers. Paypal would suffer greatly.

A sorta reverse effect similar to this happened to Google in China. By standing up to the Chinese government Google had a disadvantage compared to the Chinese search engines and has be greatly affected by this over there.

The definition of foreign sites is also problematic. At this time the US government thinks it can seize any domain for which the top level domain administrator is in the US. Thus any site with a .ca, .is, .uk etc could be blocked by a weird definition of foreign. What I find funny is the use of the pirate bay as poster child of evil site. It's a .org domain it could be seize today. Wikileaks also a .org could have been seize by ICE (http://www.ice.gov/). ICE having that power is weird since they have gone after American sites.

Essentially the government can now block both American and soon Foreign sites if this bill goes into action. American Internet users are the ones who will suffer most by this. This affects Americans much more than international people.

Also, kn0thing should ask the guy next time if a Job in the entertainment business is worth more than one in other fields because this is what I feel they are saying.

I tend to disagree with the entire argument that it is OK because it is only going to target foreign sites.

The internet tends to be (or should be) borderless. What if the next Google or Facebook doesn't come from Silicon valley but instead from India? How do we already feel when foreign governments are blocking the current Google and Facebook?

I think the idea is that US sites are already subject to US jurisdiction. Lawsuits can be brought against them already. There is no need for something like SOPA because a restraining order issued by a court can already take a US website down.

I don't think he was outmatched. If anything, he came out as a young, smart, polite guy running a successful business at the forefront of innovation -- the best America can offer, really.

Cotton came out as the rich, smiling shark that he is, which makes smart people dismissive of anything he has to say. His very first line "let's make a step back: we are talking about jAAAAAbs" sounds like something any two-faced lying politician would say. He did get more airplay, because he was incredibly rude, but I don't expect anything less from an executive of the network that is producing the show in the first place (it was actually kinda ballsy for Hayes to tell him he was flat-out wrong).

So, all in all, I don't think Alex should change much in his presentation; the only mistake he made, I think, was that he was too eager to push the "piracy is a service problem" soundbite before he had actually explained why that is the case.

Disagree. I think Cotton clearly won the debate. His "The law only affects foreign companies involved in wholesale piracy" talking point is persuasive and was never refuted.

It was an ambush tactic -- he introduced a complete lie among his talking points, and dared everyone else to refute it. The next time around, anti-SOPA spokespersons will fire back on this point "with chapter and verse". Considering we're still quite far from the decisive votes, seeing the pro-SOPA camp already forced to resort to outright lies is comforting, they clearly have nothing else to show.

But HOW is his talking point a "complete lie"? It is amazing to me that nobody either on that interview or in this comment thread can clearly and succinctly point out how the NBC exec was lying.

Section 102:

(a) DEFINITION.—For purposes of this section, a foreign Internet site or portion thereof is a "foreign infringing site" if—

(1) the Internet site or portion thereof is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users in the United States

The term foreign used in this case is quite misleading.

I think you misunderstood this. Let me rephrase the above definition to make it easier to parse:

"A foreign infringing site is a FOREIGN SITE for which it is true that (1)... (2)... (3)..."

FOREIGN SITE is defined in section 101 as "an Internet site that is not a domestic Internet site".

DOMESTIC INTERNET SITE = "an Internet site for which the corresponding domain name or, if there is no domain name, the corresponding Internet Protocol address, is a domestic domain name or domestic Internet Protocol address". It is open to interpretation whether a site with a US and non-US domain is a domestic site.

It is open to interpretation whether a site with a US and non-US domain is a domestic site.

Exactly. There is a lot in this bill which is open for interpretation.

And the main point Alexis did make was that companies should compete with the pirates on quality of service. So now the only real piece on SOPA in the MSM has the anti- camp associated with some Hippy sounding bullshit... which the clearly anti-SOPA host argued against.

The issue should be framed as not just blocking access to foreign sites, but as blocking Americans from talking about them.

it was only never refuted because Cotton simply wouldn't allow it to be. Any time someone tried to explain why, he would interrupt and say "That's not true, you're wrong."

To me, that made him a clear loser.

Cotton came out as the rich, smiling shark that he is, which makes smart people dismissive of anything he has to say.

Most people, by definition, are closer to average or dumb. This war unfortunately requires convincing large numbers that SOPA is a really, really bad idea.

I don't want to disparage the masses with words like "dumb" but your comment does touch on a very important fact. The masses are moved by simple, but powerful themes. Cotton understands this and used it to his advantage. In my opinion, anti-SOPA debaters should stick to "Do we want to become like China?" ...and use it over and over and over.

It didn't seem to me that Alexis was outclassed by Cotton -- it seemed simply that Cotton was making points which Alexis didn't even attempt to oppose.

Cotton said "this only applies to foreign sites which are wholesale devoted to copyright infringement". Is that true or not? If it's false, why didn't Alexis say so?

because Cotton interrupted and got the host to change the subject EVERY TIME. Cotton seemed like a huge jerk because he wouldn't let anyone finish a sentence.

Cotton made some very strong points that never got refuted or even addressed. If I was completely ignorant of SOPA/PIPA and watched this segment, I would have felt more convinced by Cotton's arguments than anyone else's.

I unfortunately agree. I thought it was a very strong showing on Cotton's part, and he had a very clear talking point that he hammered home a dozen times ("This will only affect foreign companies with wholesale copyright infringement").

I couldn't agree more. Alexis is smart with excellent points, though he didn't make some of the more damnable points against this proposed regulation. The problem that he faced, ne, that anyone of us would face is the transition to making the same arguments using a medium you are not experienced with. Add to that the fact that Chris Hayes, unlike hundreds of cable news shows, is not a forgiving environment for people who don't reinforce their arguments with rhetorical points of proof or intellectual logic.

This is by no means an indictment of Alexis' intellect or his understanding and ability to present evidence of his hypothesis (which we've seen he and other opponents can do effectively in writing), rather the fast-paced, time-limited format of live televised debate, particularly on UP!, is a brutal gauntlet with no exits.

Richard Cotten seemed to sort of be given a bit of a pass on his interuptions. Interuptions, I might add, that are seldom as long or loud on previous episodes of UP!.

For good or ill, these shows are important terrain of political conflict. I think they are more useful than many people think, but that's beside the point.

If you want to win in politics, you must be able to win on these shows, or win by a much greater margins elsewhere.

I love what Alexis is doing, but unfortunately I think Richard Cotton won this one. As someone who cares about the future of technology and the internet, I know that what Mr. Cotton said isn't true, that this legislation will not only affect foreign companies "wholesalely devoted to illegal content". Yet, as a consumer, I come away from that debate remembering little past the fact that the media companies and their supporters only want to go after these evil foreign websites. "Sure it might not work, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try."

We need to push a clear explanation of why and how this legislation does actually affect US companies in a negative and unjust way. I believe it does, but not having read the legislation (neither will 99.9% of Americans), I don't know exactly how, or why. SOPA supporters' strongest argument seems to be that this act will not harm lawful, job creating US companies. We need a concise explanation of how this harms US companies that is easy for the non-technical American to understand.

Alexis is doing a fine job, but I'd really like to see Tim O'Reilly on these shows and appearing before Congress: http://gigaom.com/2012/01/13/tim-oreilly-why-im-fighting-sop...

Not only is he running a media company (which ostensibly should be in favor of SOPA), but also he's the same generation as the lawyers, lobbyists, and legislators supporting SOPA.

Agree with this completely, nobody is more qualified to talk about piracy than the guy who went to open formats, anti-DRM, etc. and is still growing his publishing business year after year.

O'Reilly is able to hold the position he does because he publishes high quality work. If you walk into a bookstore knowing nothing other than you need a book on Subject X, the book you walk out with will probably have a pen and ink animal drawn on the cover.

Most other creators are just churning out low rate disposable content. Their business models are struggling under the legal alternatives the internet has come to offer, just look at what happened to newspapers.

Now that distribution is solved, competition has sky-rocketed and they're fighting a market that wants to show them just how little their product is worth these days. Steam may be the internet distribution posterboy, but think of any other type of media producer who looks at steam. There are rock bottom prices on everything that isn't a AAA title released in the last 6 months.

They're stuck fighting the new marketplace realities, they can't afford to see piracy in the periphery (like O'Reilly can), so they do the one thing they know how to: give cash to congress to make that problem go away.

Don't forget that he's got that Safari, too, which is essentially "Books as a Service." Yes, his books are high quality too (I have a ton!), but he also has a superior distribution platform that the pirates simply cannot match.

EDIT: Typo.

This is exactly how I got the PHP reference that's sitting next to me when I walked into the bookstore years ago. I didn't even know who O'Reilly was then, but the book was clear and easy to understand.

I have to ask, what is the rebuttal to Richard Cotton's assertion that this only effects "wholesale piracy websites outside the USA"? Because no one seemed to be able to come up with one on the show - which is disturbing since I would think the opposition would have a strong counter argument to this.

People (on the show and in this thread) keep saying that what Cotton said isn't true and is deceptive - but where are the factual arguments?

1. Alexis (and the other dude) tried to get to it, but got talked over: It only applies to non-US websites as far as piracy goes, but US websites that contain content describing how to get around the blocks, or US websites that decline to take down links to blocked websites are liable.

2. As Alexis said, it introduces penalties to US citizens for using foreign-hosted sites deemed to be in violation of the act.

3. the notion that it only applies to "wholesale" piracy is garbage. that might be what the NBC dude thought it would mean, but there's no way to unambiguously define what is wholesale piracy and what is casual or inadvertent piracy, and it is ultimately up to the courts to decide who the law applies to and who it doesn't. If some judge wanted to, he could probably use SOPA to take down just about any website with user-generated content. a good law isn't one that's broad and over-reaching and you just hope that it's implemented fairly. a good law is one that is specific, targeted, and difficult to abuse.

4. the point that i'm disappointed that nobody made: the pirate bay is a .org (and nominally a .com), which technically makes it a US site. the NBC guy's prime example of why we need SOPA is immune to SOPA.

Here's the definition used by SOPA:

> (a) Definition- For purposes of this section, a foreign Internet site or portion thereof is a `foreign infringing site' if--

> (1) the Internet site or portion thereof is a U.S.-directed site and is used by users in the United States;

> (2) the owner or operator of such Internet site is committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations punishable under section 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, or 2320, or chapter 90, of title 18, United States Code; and

> (3) the Internet site would, by reason of acts described in paragraph (1), be subject to seizure in the United States in an action brought by the Attorney General if such site were a domestic Internet site.

Understanding this requires understanding criminal copyright infringement. 2319 references 506 (a)(1)(B).

> (a) Criminal Infringement.—

> (1) In general.— Any person who willfully infringes a copyright shall be punished as provided under section 2319 of title 18, if the infringement was committed—

> (A) for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain;

It does not seem these requirements can be met casually or accidentally.

"US websites that contain content describing how to get around the blocks, or US websites that decline to take down links to blocked websites are liable"

Could you cite the parts of SOPA that led you to this conclusion? I looked here: thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.3261: (there's a colon at the end of the URL) and found only provisions that apply to search engines, ISPs, payment processors and ad networks, not generally "US websites". With regard to anti-circumvention, I found only references to "product or service designed or marketed for the circumvention". I don't think that encompasses "content describing how to get around the blocks".

I agree. I found it unusual that so many people are claiming it's not true, but without citing any facts.

Upon some brief research (Wikipedia), it seems that Cotton's claims are true:


"The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement"

A court finding that a site is facilitating copyright infringement seems like a high bar to meet.

The rebuttal is this:

The bill defines "foreign infringing sites" as those infringing sites that have their domains registered outside the US, are "US-directed" and "used by users in the United States." This would include, for example, all the sites that use Libya's top-level domain, like bit.ly, but would not include a site like thepiratebay.org, as the US controls the .org top-level domain.

You can check that this is true by reading Sec. 101.3-8 and Sec. 102.1.a. (13 lines of text in total) on the Library of Congress website here:

This doesn't address whether a site is "infringing" or not, but it makes it clear that sites that most people would consider US websites, like bit.ly, can certainly be affected by the bill. Cotton's argument that only foreign sites will be affected is bogus, when you look at the details of what "foreign" means.

That still doesn't explain why Google is opposed to the bill.

I think there's a better explanation that is linked to the enforcement of situations such as "someone googles Pirate Bay and gets a link to the site". SOPA puts Google at fault for this, and I assume the enforcement mechanism could very much harm a US company (Google). Unfortunately, time ran out on the segment right as they were getting to this point.

I wonder what the purpose of requiring Google to remove the links is - when, I would assume, there would be DNS-level blocking of TPB. Wouldn't the links just not work? It would seem like Google could then not worry about policing search results (aside from the desire to remove broken links).

I think Google and other web companies are opposed because it will create potentially significant administration burden for them.

That is probably not the only reason, but I suspect it is sufficient reason for most opposition.

The bill does apparently say that it does not force US based sites, ISPs, Name servers to change their current operations.

   title I shall be construed to impose a duty on an en-
   tity described in section 102(c) or 103(c) to design
   its network, technology, or service to forestall or pre-
   vent acts that would actually or potentially create a
   cause of action under such title, or to utilize any
   particular type of technology to comply with the re-
   quirements of such title.
Perhaps someone else can shine some light in how Google could still be victim to increased administrative burden.

When I read that paragraph as a layman, I read two points:

1. A US entity does not have to redesign anything to slow or prevent infringing search results/credit card payments/etc in order to avoid liability

2. No particular type of technology must be utilized to comply: they're explicitly saying they won't require firms to "use PiracyBlocker2001 on your network" or "filter search results with the ProtectLouisVuittonsProfitMargin algorithm" or something to that effect.

You link isn't working for me - but I will take your word. That is an interesting point and seems simple enough for most people to understand, I wonder why it wasn't brought up.

Do you know any details about the "wholesale piracy" portion of the claim? Is it just a matter of setting a dangerous precedent (who defines "wholesale", etc) or is there a more concrete counterpoint in the bill?

Ah, it appears that the HN link parser clips the colon off the end of the URL in my previous post. I fixed the formatting, but the link is no longer clickable. Should be copy/pasteable.

About the "wholesale piracy" bit: that's also wrong. The bill would apply to an "an Internet site, or a portion thereof" ... "primarily designed or operated for the purpose of" piracy. (Sec 103.a.1.A-B) Links on bit.ly (for example) that pointed to illegal downloads would fall into that category. The phrase "portion of" is not compatible with Cotton's "wholesale" description.

For me, the worst part is that the bill targets sites "facilitating the commission of criminal violations," (Sec 102.a.2) related to copyright law, rather than actually committing the criminal violations. If this were in the realm of guns rather than copyright, it would make every gun magazine publisher a criminal. In general, speech about crime is different than crime itself, especially when the activity at hand can be criminal or noncriminal in different circumstances.

I agree the "or portion thereof" part is unclear and could be interpreted as enabling courts to DNS-block a domain on which any amount of infringement is going on. For example ISPs will be required to "prevent the domain name of the foreign infringing site (or portion thereof) from resolving". What the hell does "domain name of a portion of a site" mean?

Regarding the "facilitating" part, notice it is just one of three items in a definition. ALL of these items have to be satisfied. Let's not spread FUD here.

> Regarding the "facilitating" part, notice it is just one of three items in a definition. ALL of these items have to be satisfied

Yes, you are correct. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise.

The public needs to hear that X% of these "foreign" websites are based in the US.

This has been a big information failing from the anti-SOPA side. Reddit have come out and said that it would be too expensive for reddit to remain in operation if SOPA passes, so the site would have to shut down.

I see no evidence that it would effect reddit's operations in any way. From googling around for 5 minutes, it seems that Cotton is correct on this point.

Me neither. From what I've read so far it seems it would only affect ISPs, search engines, ad networks and payment processors.

(B) INTERNET SEARCH ENGINES- A provider of an Internet search engine shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to prevent the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, or a portion of such site specified in the order, from being served as a direct hypertext link.

(D) INTERNET ADVERTISING SERVICES- (i) REQUIRED ACTIONS- An Internet advertising service that contracts to provide advertising to or for the foreign infringing site, or portion thereof, that is subject to the order, or that knowingly serves advertising to or for such site or such portion thereof, shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to-- (I) prevent its service from providing advertisements to or relating to the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order or a portion of such site specified in the order; (II) cease making available advertisements for the foreign infringing site or such portion thereof, or paid or sponsored search results, links, or other placements that provide access to such foreign infringing site or such portion thereof; and (III) cease providing or receiving any compensation for advertising or related services to, from, or in connection with such foreign infringing site or such portion thereof. (ii) NO DUTY TO MONITOR- An internet advertising service shall be considered to be in compliance with clause (i) if it takes action described in that clause with respect to accounts it has as of the date on which a copy of the order is served, or as of the date on which the order is amended under subsection (e).

I'm not sure how to quantify the number of sites Google would be forced to deal with on a daily basis if this legislation were to pass, but I suspect the number could be quite large. Registering hosting and/or domains is a trivial task.

Cotton's proposal that immunity was provided to Search Engines and Ad Networks is laughable. Here are the bill's actual claims: (A) IMMUNITY FROM SUIT- Other than in an action pursuant to paragraph (4), no cause of action shall lie in any Federal or State court or administrative agency against any entity served with a copy of a court order issued under this subsection, or against any director, officer, employee, or agent thereof, for any act reasonably designed to comply with this subsection or reasonably arising from such order. (B) IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY- Other than in an action pursuant to paragraph (4)--

It promises immunity... Except for repercussions due to not correctly acting on the courts orders in a timely manner. So not only is there no real immunity, but there's a burden placed on businesses to immediately comply or 'else'.

Moreover, imagine that later down the road you were unlucky enough to purchase one of the domains that had been blacklisted. In order to be listed in a search index, receieve advertising revenue or conduct payments, you would need to file a motion with the court to lift the ban. An innocent person, who has never been found guilty of doing any harm, would be required to jump through legal hurdles in order to exist on the internet.

(d) Modification or Vacation of Orders- (1) IN GENERAL- At any time after the issuance of an order under subsection (b), a motion to modify, suspend, or vacate the order may be filed by-- (A) any person, or owner or operator of property, that is subject to the order; (B) any registrant of the domain name, or the owner or operator, of the Internet site that is subject to the order; (C) any domain name registrar, registry, or other domain name registration authority that has registered or assigned the domain name of the Internet site that is subject to the order; or (D) any entity that has been served with a copy of an order pursuant to subsection (c) that requires such entity to take action prescribed in that subsection. (2) RELIEF- Relief under this subsection shall be proper if the court finds that-- (A) the foreign Internet site subject to the order is no longer, or never was, a foreign infringing site; or (B) the interests of justice otherwise require that the order be modified, suspended, or vacated.


I'm going to continue paging through the bill, but I think this response is adequate to rebuke Cotton's assertion that this only effects "wholesale piracy websites outside of the USA". None of the parties I mentioned above were pirates, nor were they necessarily foreign entities.

So is there a good explanation (link to those lawyer analyses mentioned by Hayes perhaps) of specifically how US sites are affected? My understanding is that if someone posts a circumvention method (eg. link to new domain) then the site on which it was posted have liability. Is this correct?

My critique:

"The internet is a lawless place."

Alexis responds by citing DMCA. DMCA is probably the weakest thing to cite when trying to show that the Internet is already regulated. How about citing all the myriad other laws that are applied everyday to prosecute and jail folks for fraud over the internet?

You could literally make the guy look like a fool over that one word: lawless. The good thing is, this is such a common argument it will come up again and again. Just remember: everyday folks get arrested and prosecuted for crime over the internet; is that common in a lawless place?

It should also be noted and remind everyone who says that the more chaotic and "lawless" nature of the Internet is also what helps innovation to thrive on it. It should be said that you can't have one without the other.

I'm really surprised how rude Richard Cotton was. It doesn't matter what anyone else was saying, he would just interrupt and tell them they were wrong.

It strikes me that he is deliberately lying and pretending SOPA actually says only something that more people would support, ie "shutting down illegal foreign websites stealing american content."

I suspect that someone at his level who is speaking publicly on the issue knows exactly what is in this bill. After all, it is his lobbying money that is buying the bill in the first place.

How can Alexis defend against this bald-faced lie in future debates? It seems like a tough thing to defend against.

This is something that those against SOPA and other measures are going to have to get better at. He knows he's lying (or "framing"), he's had years of practice at it. Alexis and others speaking for the technology sector don't. In general they tend to be somewhat humble, confident, and mostly honest people. The success they've had in their lives has been built on the work of countless others and there is a certain amount of deference and pragmatism even in our brightest and accomplished spokespeople.

This needs to change. There is an art to hyperbole, and as much as it makes us all cringe, we need to start engaging in it and framing the argument in a way that will get the visceral juices flowing a bit. "This bill will cause Facebook to delete your account and any of your friends if you post a video", "This bill will force youtube to delete all the videos you took at your childs birthday party", etc. You lose the argument when you accept a compromise when starting from the position you want to finish in. You have to pull back much further, like SOPA proponents are doing, and hope that the middle ground falls further in your interest than others.

Unfortunately fifteen minute segments in which the opponent is given 75% of the talking time does not provide enough opportunity to create a strong defense. It was clear that any attempt to highlight the inaccuracy of Mr. Cotton's statements would have been met with interruption. Either that or you fall into a 'yes it does', 'no it doesn't' debate.

I think the only successful response to "shutting down illegal foreign websites stealing american content" is to point to industry experts and other various authorities that claim SOPA goes beyond that goal. Hayes attempted to do this at one point, but was quickly contradicted by Cotton. At that point Alexis needed to reaffirm that Hayes was correct and hammer home the idea that the legislation is far from clear.

"This legislation specifically says there can be no secondary liability. The only thing that can happen pursuant to a court order is that an ad network, a credit card company, or a search engine has to respond with respect to a specific site that has been adjudicated by the court to be wholesale..."

Search is a commodity. Look at the bottom of HackerNews. HackerNews is also a search engine. It seems that there can be no secondary liability because SOPA basically addresses all of the internet as we know it.

Also, what is to stop Google and other sites opposing SOPA from simply blocking results to NBC and SOPA supporters? Throw them off the internet and let them taste a bit of what they're asking for! Don't we have the right and ability to do so?

So I'm going to play devil's advocate: The main talking point of the NBC exec is "This law will only effect foreign companies engaged in wholesale theft".

It was never refuted on the interview, and I don't see it refuted in this comment thread anywhere. Is this actually true?

Richard Cotton had talking points and stuck to them.

i especially liked how he kept pushing the same two lines over and over again, but as soon as alexis came close to saying any sort of soundbyte he just yells out "sloganeering doesn't help anything".

Cotton was used to the environment where he knows there is a limited amount of time to make his case to the public. He (attempted to) connect it with a subject they care about (jobs) and then did everything he could to shut down any substantive exchange on the issue by talking over Alexis. Within the limited amount of time available, Cotton got more of his message across than Alexis.

I feel like I should be uploading episodes of 30 Rock to every site I can find just to even things out.

No one likes the tactic of interrupting every dissenting opinion, but without a doubt it's extremely effective.

I know that having everyone at podiums or at a table is a very human thing for debates, making them seem like they're open discussions, but tactics like this prevent such discussions, and are fairly obnoxious for people who are actually trying to listen.

I'd rather just put everyone in sound booths with cameras and then mute them when it's not their turn.

Alexis has done a great deal to help fight against SOPA and his company Reddit was one of the very first to schedule a blackout, but I don't think he's the right guy to fight this on TV and in the long term.

We need someone like Doctorow, Rick Falkvinge, John Perry Barlow, or Tim O'Reilly to keep fighting this on TV and in debates. We need someone who can argue philosophically against bills like SOPA and PIPA, and someone who has studied the bills well enough to be able to defend and attack every single point SOPA-supporters can make.

Reddit and Google will only be able to keep fighting this as long as it directly impacts them. There needs to be someone to argue against SOPA even after they say it doesn't affect US sites. Just because it doesn't affect US sites, doesn't mean it still won't break the Internet if it shuts down foreign sites with little due process.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, SOPA also makes copyright infringement a felony, which I believe is a first in US law. It also makes the service provider responsible for the user's content. Again, this is unacceptable. There are more examples like these in the bill, so there are other reasons besides the DNS provision why this bill is bad. Someone needs to study it properly and challenge them.

Honestly...I kinda feel like Alexis could have been more 'technically prepared'.

i.e. he should have been able to specifically point to clauses that he disagrees with and why.

I dont agree. He should have fought fire with fire and connected their attempt to fight online piracy with the intrusive methods used by the large media companies to control content.

For example, how the media companies force you to watch commercials that can't be skipped when you purchase a DVD. People HATE those and using that as an example of a world where SOPA/PIPA are the law of the land would win a few points.

He should have also been much more forceful or accusatory and mounted a good offense that Cotton would have been forced to defend against. This is an effective debating strategy, nearly equivalent to the question "when did you stop beating your wife" and can totally change the win/loss column.

But the BEST way to frame this debate is to discuss how INTRUSIVE the methods will be. The ISPs will HAVE to install means of monitoring everything that is done online in order to protect themselves from liability. This same technology, once installed, could be used to block access to offshore poker/gambling sites and that it s HUGE business in the US. There is literally NO END to the kinds of disfavored businesses or information sources that could be censored and if you don't know about them, then its likely to completely change the open nature of the Internet. Making the point that this censorship regime would look exactly like China's Great Firewall is effective. For all intensive technological purposes, the two are the same.

Well....sounds like you are agreeing with me. I said I didn't think he was well prepared enough. He should have spoken about SPECIFIC issues. i.e. highlighted SPECIFIC ways the legislation recommends that things will be implemented, or other specific ways that the internet (and our way of life) will be impacted via language found in the legislation.

None of which he did. I felt like that could have been me talking - when it shouldn't have felt like that. It should have felt like someone that is intimately familiar with the legislation and have talking points about why it is bad with specific examples. i.e. what you said :)

Honestly, the host was awful (constant stammering) and that combined with Alexis's naivety (with regards to how to present points) made the opposition argument completely worthless. If I had no knowledge of why SOPA is bad I would have come away from that video with the opinion that SOPA is fine...

I'm not sure why in any broadcast I've seen someone doesn't give examples, why doesn't someone opposing SOPA say that "If a person goes to Facebook and posts a link to thepiratebay.org then Warner Brothers can request Facebook be taken offline"? Surely that is more than enough to explain the problem.

No one says that, because no one on TV believes that. I don't believe Alexis Ohanian believes that either.

1) thepiratebay isn't targeted by SOPA.

2) Facebook isn't a foreign site, and not targeted by SOPA.

3) A court would have to agree that the site be taken down.

4) The entire site wouldn't be taken down because it isn't primary designed or operated to enable or facilitate infringement.

From that though it sounds like it is possible, given a judge willing to take some liberties with interpretation of SOPA. Unless it's explicitly not possible it's still fair game to suggest that the bill is opening up that possibility.

Given that content producers do things like claim every pirated copy as lost income even though in reality they know this isn't the case I think taking the powers given by SOPA to the extreme case could be a good tool in the argument.

Wait, #2 and #4 would also have to be true for this to be possible. To answer your question, it's explicitly not possible, because Facebook.com is domestic and is not primarily designed or operated to enable or facilitate infringement.

"This legislation specifically says there can be no secondary liability [to US-based sites]." - Richard Cotton. Then he contradicts himself 15 seconds later.

Is Richard Cotton a liar or just ignorant?

Neither, just non-specific. US-based companies are forced to comply with take-down requests after X (5?) days, but SOPA explicitly says that they are not required to filter or monitor for potential infringement.

He's a lawyer. Does that answer your question?

Chris Hayes's introduction was excellent.

The guy Alexis was up against is assine. He stuck to his talking points, as instructed, which many are blatantly incorrect, but were portrayed in a way that joe public is able to understand and get behind.

During these kinds of talks, I'd like to see Alexis point out more how this is censorship in it's highest form, and list the reasons/examples why. Impassioned approaches are great, but the moment you step on the big stage you have to become cold blooded and go for the jugular.

A big part of what I like about Alexis is that he's not that kind of guy. However, if he's going to be representing us in this fight then he needs to arm himself with the same drivel and talking points that his opponents have. Otherwise, he himself is just a tool to help drive home the point of the SOPA-PROS.

It's because of the capricious nature of this bill that we are left with the prospects that this could be used as a method to squash speech deemed undesired by those with the power to control it. Pointing out a hypothetical case where someone in an elevated position, like Rupert Murdock, could have had (online/third party) magazines, who were reporting on their recent phone tapping scandal, shutdown for any number of reasons would be a perfect example.

Many of us agree that piracy is primarily a service problem. The fact that Netflix makes up over 30% of the United States nightly internet traffic is proof. That's a whole lot of bandwidth that people are using because of the convenience. However, this can't be the only argument we make to say why this is poison legislation.

That said, I'd also like to have the talk that this legislation is still easily circumvented not even mentioned. It's worth noting, but once again it can't be a talking point as to why this legislation is bad.

Get in front of the camera as much as you can Alexis, great job for your first showing. Don't be afraid to show how passionate you are about the ramifications and the importance of freedom.

Point out that it's the media companies that are eroding any goodwill that remains for them by criminalising their best customers instead of taking the opportunity to listen to them. Unless I'm very wrong, a majority of the audience will be people who both pirate at times and consume legal content when its easy and fairly priced. I think the average Joe would be against SOPA if they realised the ramifications - don't be afraid to point out horrible scenarious that could happen uner the letter fo the law, and don't accept "oh it would never realistically be used in that way". Make people realise what is being given away here.

After watching the video, it's clear that the argument of SOPA supporters is going to be "this will never affect US companies". Google and Facebook have come out very strongly against the bill, and I assume they did so not on a whim, but on the advice of very high priced and intelligent legal counsel who think these US companies WILL be affected.

The NBC exec successfully skated around any scenario that may happen in which a US company gets punished due to SOPA. At the very end of the interview, the talk was getting there ("So Google HAS to take Pirate Bay down from search. What happens if it doesn't?") but the segment ended.

We need someone to get out there and clearly enumerate the scenarios in which generally law-abiding US companies can get burned by SOPA. This was not accomplished in the interview.

Mr. Cotton is stuck in the brick and mortar business mode. He clearly does not understand that the Internet has no borders. He is "wholesale" lumping every international web site into this pot of illegal activity. Why didn't NBC bring a VP or media exec on?

Richard Cotton is general council AND EVP of NBCUniversal: http://www.nbcuni.com/corporate/management/senior-corporate-...

This post explains well the problems with Richard Cotton's argument: http://ammori.org/2011/12/31/sopapipa-copyright-bills-also-t...

Lol at the diagram for Arpanet that was displayed.

The video quality was poor at fullscreen but it looked like Alexis Ohanian was wearing a talkback earpiece in his left ear (does anyone else see it?)

I'm wondering whether he was receiving a live brief from his counsel backstage during the debate? I doubt he'd be connected to the production room's on-set talkback system, even the host didn't seem to have talkback in his ear.

EDIT: Talkback is the industry term for the closed radio connection between production room and studio floor where the host will receive timing cues, which camera to look at, etc.

On a similar vein: for those of you who have not yet seen it Cory Doctorow's talk "The coming war on general computing"[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUEvRyemKSg] is definitely worth viewing.

The most dangerous part of SOPA in my opinion is not the damage it'll do immediately but the incredibly shortsighted legal precedent it'll make for future legalization to use as reference.

Unfortunately, like (every single debate ever?), there isn't enough time.

A few people never got a chance to speak, Alexis is rightly looking a bit frustrated at not being able to respond at times.

Why can't a debate last for 5 hours instead of 20 minutes?

Then we could see the details explored further (such as the act supposedly not affecting US sites) instead of frustratingly brushed over due to time constraints.

A good analogy could be a shopping center found to be renting a shop to a business selling some counterfeit products. The SOPA equivalent would be to cancel their ability to take further rent payments, remove their advertising ability and something akin to lockin the front gate people use to get in (the DNS block).

I wonder how ppl watch tv. Every 5 minutes they makes a stop for adv block (even it is cut from online video). This makes my mind blowing. I know that this discussion is about more important thing but you "forced me" to spend time to it as I care about SOPA. But anyway I don't understand. TV is annoying and awful.

Can anybody who has knowledge about SOPA answer some questions for me?

1. Will the websites that are blocked by a result of SOPA only affect US citizens? 2. Can a foreign TLD such as .dk, .se etc. get blocked? 3. What happens if you use the IP-adress to ThePirateBay instead of the domain name?

1. Who knows? It all depends on how they intend to implement this DNS blocking. I'd expect non-US ISPs would stop using any US-based root nameserver, circumventing the block. Considering most of entities taking care of the root zone are either American institutions or US-base multinationals, this would really pout a strain on the existing non-US infrastructure, but could actually result in a better designed network (i.e. less reliant on US bodies).

2. Yes, blocking access to foreign websites is the whole point of the legislation. Note that this would only mean that US-based users wouldn't be able to resolve your .dk, but everybody else (i.e. in Europe or Asia etc) would still be able to do it.

3. Good question. Again, this will depend on the technical implementation; I believe at the moment they're only talking about blocking DNS resolution. The minute they block IP-based connections, you basically have the Great Firewall of America in place.

1. That's complicated. It only directly affects US citizens. But indirectly, foreign companies, websites etc could be affected.

2. Are you talking about the entire TLD? Then, no. If you are talking individual domains, then, yes, those are the targets of this bill.

3. ThePirateBay is exempt from SOPA DNS-blocking since it is a dot-org. IP-addresses are exempt of course from DNS-blocking. Plus, it looks like DNS-blocking has been pulled entirely from SOPA (but let's watch that play out). AFAIK no one is exempt from interfering with payments from advertising and payment processing companies.

It's a shame that the "piracy is a matter of convenience" argument is dismissed so quickly. Living in the US you can easily get legal access to lots of creative content through the web, but for people outside of the US it's a different story.

Even in the US, with all the legal means to access content, I wouldn't say it is always convenient. Studios delay or prohibit sites from showing content, or require you already have a subscription to a participating cable company (which in many cases the consumer cannot control whether they are "participating"), before you can legally get access to much of the content.

Compare this to the ability to download a movie literally days after it is in the theater, or a show hours after it shows on TV, and then to play it in whatever manner you choose, instead of being tied to a specific medium by the company producing the content (for instance, Google TV is blocked by many "approved" content websites, you HAVE to watch on your computer.)

I'm not advocating the piracy, just showing how much more convenient it really is. And until the media companies start innovating in how the content is delivered and can be accessed, piracy will be appealing and more convenient.

One of the biggest problems with ProtectIP/SOPA is that they would stifle the need for the media companies to innovate, which is exactly what they want. The media companies do not want to innovate or find better ways, they want the status quo from 10 years ago.

I think the problem is the natural psychological reaction people have to price discrimination. For example, what if you could watch a movie online the day it's released, but it costs $50 per view? People would be upset about that, even though it's strictly in their interest by giving them an option they don't have today; it would also be enabling/creating competition in a "release-day download" market.

Amazon ran experiments like this in the past, offering products at different prices over short periods of time, according to the person or according to market factors (supply). There was a huge community backlash against the idea that price discrimination might be going on.

I don't know what the solution is, but I agree it would be vastly preferable to me if all content were available immediately and online at some price, even if it's a high price. It should never be arbitrarily unavailable.

I take the view that many aspects of human 'irrationality' have their basis in people trying to avoid being manipulated by others, though they certainly don't always work.

I don't know how to prove whether or not that's true, but it tends to explain things like our response to the Ultimatum Game. And that's essentially what we're dealing with here: people who make deals that are too one-sided (huge price discrimination, etc.) may trigger a backlash, even if the offer is an improvement on the status quo.


"A bill that you may have never heard of."


"... thanks largely to us."

At least he pretty much said thanks largely to us and people like us.

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