Tech Companies Not Taking a Stand on Censorship Are Being Blacklisted

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Since a large group of tech companies protested the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) in conjunction with the House's first hearing on SOPA last week, civil rights advocates have been rooting out the pro-SOPA traitors. The latest two to be named are Nintendo and Sony, identified by Think Progress on Monday as having spent tens of thousands of dollars to support the Senate's similar, stalled bill PROTECT IP. Last week, we learned about a list of companies that evidently tacitly supported the legislation through their membership in the Business Software Association, who after dealing with a vitriolic wave of criticism clarified — some say reversed — their stance on the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA). It's turning into a gnarly debate, that we suspect will continue to compel companies to take a stand on these laws that would effectively allow the government to censor the internet. To reposition an earlier Bush-era idiom used by SOPA's advocates, if you're a tech company that's not actively fighting against SOPA, you must be for it.

Apple, Microsoft and the others on the BSA's list of members provide the industry with a teaching moment. The Apple fanboys freaked out last Friday at the news of BSA's support for the bill, first reported by The Next Web. Last week, a group of Apple and Microsoft competitors, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and others, took a very public stand by publishing an open letter in opposition to the bill as a full page ad in The New York Times. The Atlantic Wire asked Apple and Microsoft to comment on the bill, either in favor or in opposition. Both companies declined to comment. 

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For Apple, at least, staying silent hasn't done too much to calm its customers anxiety about SOPA. Since the BSA had been labelled as pro-SOPA last week, member companies like Apple and Microsoft have been catching flak for supporting internet censorship, and even now that BSA is now actively opposing the censorship bills, Apple and Microsoft continue to be associated with the pro-SOPA camp over the pro-internet freedom camp, that includes competitors. 

Now, the investigative journalists have started digging, following lobbyist dollars back to companies that have somehow supported the legislation and adding them to the list of traitors. Think Progress now reveals the suspicious lobbying activity of Nintendo and Sony from the government transparency site, Open Secrets.  A deeper dive into the list of tech companies that have spent money to address the PROTECT IP bill — both for and against its passage — proves that the money issue is more complicated. Others on the list of companies spending lobbyist dollars on the issue include: Google (an outspoken SOPA opponent); GoDaddy (another opponent that's worried about the government blocking internet protocol addresses); and News Corp. (an advocate, which is not a surprise given its presence in Hollywood). Both PROTECT IP and SOPA have been vigorously supported and funded by the entertainment industry, but plenty of tech companies are worried about the current wording. David Sohn and Andrew McDiarmid offer a good explainer at The Atlantic, and at the bottom of this post is a video produced by civil rights advocates at Fight for the Future.

The debate over the SOPA/PROTECT IP legislation is being framed as a battle for the soul of the internet. It's potentially a public relations nightmare for companies that depend on internet lovers for their business. One gamer dug up a letter singed by dozens of companies from September that voices support for the legislation. Nintendo is described as "a primary sponsor of SOPA (H.R. 3261), the internet censorship bill," and even though that's not entirely true, hundreds of gamers (read: Nintendo customers) have commented. The tone is not forgiving. An example: "Nintendo has that sheen of a reputation much like Apple. Under the surface lies a demon that really hates its customers." 

We can't say with certainty that Nintendo or Sony still support the bill, but again, civil rights advocates seem to be assuming that companies not fighting the bill are supporting it. We've reached out to both companies to find out their latest stance on the issue, and in the meantime, we'd be willing to bet a buffalo-head nickel that their gamer customers will stay angry.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.