Usually, when Northern and Southern California fight, it’s over water. And it’s always been brutally political.
Lately the battle has centered on the flow of information. And it’s been brutally political.
Last week Congress hit the “Pause” button on two controversial and hotly contested pieces of anti-internet piracy legislation.
The House’s “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the Senate’s “Protect IP Act” (PIPA) were introduced to strengthen safeguards against intellectual property theft and copyright infringement on the web.
“Content providers”—like the entertainment industry, want Congress to protect them from foreign web sites’ appropriating intellectual property; internet companies see the bills’ regulations as stifling content, speech and the internet’s reach.
Interestingly, this fight has a uniquely Californian twist, whose fallout could play a role in California’s Congressional races, as well as in the Presidential election.
SOPA and PIPA have pitted Hollywood and Silicon Valley, two powerful engines driving California’s economy--and two of the state’s major political players-- against one other.
The movie industry, which orbits around Tinsel Town, and denizens such as SKG Dreamworks, are among the bills’ strongest proponents.
High tech heavyweights, such as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia and Yahoo, headquartered in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, are among the most active opponents.
According to SOPA Opera, a project of the investigative web site Pro Publica, eight members of California’s Congressional delegation supported the recent legislation (6 D, 2R)--all of whom represent Southern California districts; fifteen opposed the bills 12 D, 3 R)--12 of whom of whom hold Northern California seats. (The stances of 30 members of the California delegation were unknown by the web site.)
California’s Congress members and modern Presidents (particularly Democrats) have long milked Hollywood for campaign contributions. The high tech industry is newer to the game, but learning fast. (In fact, according to POLITICO, as of the end of September, Silicon Valley contributions to President Obama’s reelection campaign were up 80 percent, while Hollywood donations tumbled 31 percent).
SOPA Opera also reported that, in 2010, the entertainment industry contributed roughly $750,000 to California Congress members supporting SOPA and PIPA, as well as almost $285,000 to those opposing the bills.
Computer and internet companies were reported to have donated around $330,000 to California Congress members supporting the bills and about $630,000 to Congressional opponents.
Why the current edge to Silicon Valley over Hollywood—both in California and nationally—in the war to upend SOPA and PIPA? Social media and its impact on public opinion played a major role.
While Hollywood trained its political guns inside the Beltway, the tech industry campaign went viral.
As a result of the recent one-day internet blackout by Wikipedia and other web sites and the angry public response to it—and despite heavy, traditional lobbying by Hollywood, Congress put the anti-piracy legislation on indefinite hold.
But the fight will go on and the ultimate outcome will determine which of these two California-based interests exerts greater political muscle in Washington.