This is quite a reversal from last January, when Obama's opposition to the unpopular SOPA and PIPA bills had studio heads threatening to withhold their support. Entertainment industry leaders were strong supporters of the bills, which were intended to strengthen copyright laws and prevent online film piracy. Deadline even quotes one unnamed executive saying, " I'm personally not going to support him anymore and not give a dime anymore." Apparently, Obama's signature on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which some critics claim violated the U.S. Constitution, wasn't enough for them. So what happened to change their minds?
In January, President Obama was caught in a dilemma: The entertainment industry wanted to stop online piracy with SOPA and PIPA, but large Internet and communications companies feared that such legislation would cut into their profits. Silicon Valley is also important to Obama's re-election campaign, as tech companies contributed $9.2 million to his 2008 campaign.
On the other hand, high tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter have not publicly opposed efforts to allow the FBI to wiretap their websites, and some actively support the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
President Obama said he would veto CISPA, but there is reason to think that might change after the election in November. First, by signing ACTA without Senate approval, Obama has called his commitment to Internet freedom into question. As OpEdNews Editor Rob Kall writes, "ACTA makes SOPA and PIPA look like small problems. It allows the most repressive nations to demand that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) remove content or even whole websites on demand. Picture China demanding removal of a website criticizing some policy or action. Google was just about shut down in China in response to Chinese demands. Imagine if China could have the same chilling effect in the US and the rest of the world."
Furthermore, Obama's opposition to SOPA and PIPA does not appear to be firm. According to Jessica King at Imperfect Parent, "While the White House came out and said that it wouldn't support the current drafts of the legislation, it did say that it would support revised drafts. Hollywood is not going to let this go and they are going to call out favors for political donations." And MPAA chief and former senator Christopher Dodd assured The Hollywood Reporter that, " I'm confident [President Obama's] using his good relationships in both communities to do exactly what you and I have been talking about [passing anti-piracy legislation similar to SOPA and PIPA]."
Second, President Obama's opposition to CISPA may well be a simple case of election year politicking. According to Mitch Stoltz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "It's a lot more quiet, and I would guess it's because it's an election year. I think they realize this sort of thing can be an election liability now." Civil libertarians are reminded that so far, President Obama has reneged on his 2008 campaign pledges to close the U.S. base at Guantanamo and rescind the Patriot Act. In a second term, President Obama would no longer need to be concerned with voter approval, so his opposition to CISPA and anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and PIPA might very well change to support.
So, how did President Obama appease both the entertainment industry executives and the Silicon Valley crowd? At this point there is very little hard evidence to say. However, one possibility is obvious.
The key is to realize that CISPA does not preclude the Federal government from paying Internet, cybersecurity, and communications companies for the data they will be requested to provide. In fact, gathering and transmitting large amounts of data to the government will incur costs to the providers, and it would not be unreasonable for the government to reimburse them for those costs. So, what if they pay a premium for that data? Who would even know if the government contracts that provide for collection and transmission of Internet users' data exceeded the costs incurred?
It is entirely possible that anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and PIPA and information sharing legislation like CISPA have been sold to both the entertainment industry and the Silicon Valley crowd as a package deal. That way, both groups get what they want. In fact, the Internet and communications companies might even see their revenues substantially increased.
Of course, we won't know until after the November elections. And by then, it might be too late to do anything about it.