Can you think of anyone in the movie industry making the transition to the Internet way of doing things?
The Hollywood unions were in favor of SOPA, but one was against it, and that was the Writer’s Guild of America. During the writers’ strike a couple of years ago, all these writers took that time off from working on Hollywood films to start making things directly for the Internet. There was this explosion of “I might as well make TV shows” and “I might as well make short films.” That raised a lot of writers’ profiles and built them an audience independent of the studios. The strike helped them understand the value of the Internet, and I’m hoping that they can explain it to the rest of Hollywood.
Do you think there is a clash of generations on the Internet?
There was this big hearing on SOPA where a whole bunch of members of Congress basically admitted they didn’t really understand how this Internet thing works and they didn’t personally use the Internet. Their staff had to explain it to them. I think for a lot of young people that was like, you know—that was ridiculous, right?
So there was outrage that the Internet was being regulated by people who didn’t even know how to use it. If you use YouTube and Facebook on a regular basis, you realize why it’s not okay to require these companies to have people reading every post, every video that goes up. It’s totally comprehensible to a young person that there could be a website with a handful of employees that receives 24 hours of video each minute. Whereas I think members of Congress come from an era where … well, there’s no movie studio that produces 24 hours of footage a minute, right? To them, it’s totally reasonable that a studio has to watch every movie that they make and get it approved by certain people.
The Internet is a crucial part of young people’s lives; it’s the place you hang out with your friends, the place you get your news. What struck a chord was this notion that it could be taken away. That basic Internet companies like YouTube could be taken down and outlawed without even having been found guilty of any crime.
That sounds a bit exaggerated. Is “Save the Internet” becoming like abortion or gun control—a way to rally people on an emotional, irrational level?
To back up the specific point, the way the bill was written originally, any site with a significant amount of infringing content would be subject to a takedown order. The government was always like, “We’d never go after YouTube.” And that’s probably right. YouTube is probably too big and powerful a company at this point. But it’s very easy to believe that when YouTube was just starting, they could have gotten shut down and it would never have grown to the point where it is now. It would have been snuffed out as an infant.
The movie studios complained it wasn’t a fair fight, because companies that control Internet sites actually used those media to fight the bill. Any thoughts?
This is what used to be called public relations, right? Propaganda. The difference now is that groups of everyday citizens can do it. I think that’s a big part of what we saw with the fight over SOPA. It was not about legal strategy or lobbyists. It was about how do we use these techniques to get people’s attention? Wikipedia went dark for a day, Tumblr asked all their bloggers to phone Congress—I think they had over 86,000 calls that one day. There was a guy who built a tool that would automatically dial each member of Congress and the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). If you wanted to inform everybody of your position, he could do it with a couple of clicks. What’s different about this fight is that a whole community took up the banner and tried to raise attention, and that it’s all organized over the Internet.