POLITICS

Hollywood protectionism: A bill called 'SOPA'

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

"Protectionism" typically refers to trade laws that keep Americans from buying foreign goods, thus protecting domestic manufacturers from competitive forces. This causes higher prices and less innovation.

But "protectionism" also aptly describes the policy agenda of many much less gritty industries, like the banks who argued in 2008 that the current banking system needed to be saved -- that dramatic change (such as letting the big banks die in a government-managed bankruptcy) was intolerable.

You see, free markets aren't terribly sentimental. They often throw out the old -- or force to innovate in painful or difficult ways. The old guys don't like that, so they bring in government. Republicans often try to make conservative-sounding arguments for such Pinstripe Protectionism, like "this is a legitimate industry that is crucial to our economy." Guess what, buggy-whip makers were a legitimate industry and we let them get wiped out by the car.

The latest example is Hollywood. Their proposed tool is the "Stop Online Piracy Act," or SOPA.

SOPA gives broad new powers to the government to control how people and information travel around the series of tubes that is the Internet (here's one good primer), and the movie industry likes it. It's protectionism for Hollywood, though, as tech writer Steve Blank argues well here.

Blank describes how the movie industry has consistently turned to government in an attempt to hobble new technology. Here's a good description of the pinstripe protectionism in Hollywood:

 

The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to existing markets, particularly to content/copyright owners whose sell through well-established distribution channels. The incumbents tend to have short-sighted goals and often fail to recognize that more money can be made on new platforms and new distribution channels.

In an industry facing constant technology shifts the exec staff and boards of the studios have lawyers, MBAs and financial managers, but no management skill in dealing with disruption. So they rely on lobbying ($110 million a year,) lawsuits, campaign contributions (wonder why the President won’t be vetoing SOPA?) and Public Relations....

When lawyers, MBAs and financial managers run your industry and your lobbyists are ex-Senators, understanding technology and innovation is not one of your core capabilities.

The SOPA bill (and DNS blocking) is what happens when someone with the title of anti-piracy or copyright lawyer has greater clout than your head of new technology.

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