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There has been a lot of noise around SOPA and PIPA in the past three weeks so lets break this down and see what this really means, as while there is a lot of noise, there seems to be little real understanding, of how that effects online users and those of us in the PR business.

The chief protagonists in the story that is SOPA and PIPA are getting a bit full of themselves. If you haven't been following this saga, these two bills, prompted Google, Wikipedia, and a bunch of other sites to black out their logos or temporarily shut down in protest January 18. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, the House version) and PIPA (Protect IP Act, the Senate version) are said to threaten free speech, the future of innovation, the technical infrastructure of the Internet, and the economic foundation of the global economy. Wrote one wag: "Big content is quite literally trying to foist its own version of the Great Firewall of China on to the American public."

For another example of the overwrought reactions, consider the public statement from blog site Boing Boing, which shut itself down on Jan. 18 to protest the two Congressional bills: "We could not ever link to another website unless we were sure that no links to anything that infringes copyright appeared on that site. So in order to link to a URL on LiveJournal or WordPress or Twitter or Blogspot, we'd have to first confirm that no one had ever made an infringing link, anywhere on that site. Making one link would require checking millions (even tens of millions) of pages, just to be sure that we weren't in some way impinging on the ability of five Hollywood studios, four multinational record labels, and six global publishers to maximize their profits."

For more background on the SOPA anti-piracy legislation, see SOPA: 10 Key Facts.

I'm not going to defend SOPA or PIPA. If, as their critics maintain, the bills effectively give ISPs, search engines, and payment services carte blanche to cut off foreign websites that U.S. movie, music, and other content creators merely claim are profiting from their stolen goods, then the legislation is outlandish. On the flip side, if the SOPA and PIPA language is so broad as to invite such flagrant abuses, then the bills' authors need to start again.

Question is, are they up to the task? An argument making the rounds among the digerati is that SOPA and PIPA are 20th century answers to a 21st century challenge, that the movie, music, and media industry lobbyists and their Congressional puppets just don't understand the dynamics of the Internet. If that's so (and maybe it is), then it's up to the Internet industry stalwarts opposing SOPA/PIPA to rally support for a meaningful, 21st century alternative to stopping online content piracy. Most of them pay lip service to the notion that such piracy is a serious problem. It's time for them to stop grandstanding--stop stomping their feet and holding their breath--and start showing the 20th century studios and record labels and media companies and their clueless lobbyists and Congressional supporters a much more effective way to address this issue.

To its credit Google, whose YouTube is a dumping ground for pirated material, is behind an alternative bill--The Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade, or OPEN, Act and is seeking industry comment and collaboration. That collaboration must include movie, music, and media companies.

And from a PR point of view – why do we care?  Well, as with most discussions/arguments that prompt emotions in the public domain, it is PR that can fuel the fire or bring parties closer to find a resolution.  Inevitably one side or another has a stronger PR strategy and that often leads to the majority of media aligning.

We’ve said it a million times – we live in a new digital age… and that is somewhat upsetting the public domain apple cart.  With so much personal publishing (yes, I’m talking about the blogging and micro-blogging world) we see loose groupings (non-corporate) of individuals creating power. I’m thinking of the Occupy movements in cities round the U.S. and Spring Uprisings in the Middle East. So here’s the million-dollar question – how can these groups really integrate a coherent media relations program?

They don’t have the structure, resources or full time dedication of most organized businesses, charities or public offices, but they still have the power. They have a need to push public debate and while they are very good at using social media to do this, they need to work out how to use public relations to further develop their power and to reach those luddites that don’t spend 3 hours a day on social media platforms (apparently there is a massive population around the world that doesn’t – who knew?). Or maybe they don’t.  Maybe a successful PR agency will find a solution…