I haven’t spent much time talking about SOPA and PIPA, the two twin bills trying to make their way through Congress right now. When I saw folks like Fred Wilson, who has a much bigger reach than I do, and all the major internet companies lining up against it, it’s easy to think, “Well, what more can I do to add to the volume… they’ve got it covered.”
That was until I found out that New York’s own senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, appear to support these bills.
Let’s take a step back from a moment. I understand why policymakers would think these bills are a good idea. It’s basically all in the marketing. “Stopping Piracy” and “Protecting IP” sound like good ideas in theory. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of destroying the conditions around which internet innovation has thrived.
Since the DMCA, we’ve basically operated in an environment of “ask forgiveness rather than permission” when it comes to copyright and IP online. I could make a video recreationally, include a digital copy of a song, and it was up to the rights holder to decide whether or not they wanted me to take it down. That allowed me the freedom to create and innovate, and to show the rights holder how cool it could be for me to use their stuff.
Many rightsholders asked for their stuff to be taken down, as was their right, but many were fine with it. That’s the way it should be, because if you had to wait for many of the big media companies to innovate with their content, we’d still be in the media dark ages (in many ways, we still are).
Now, there are bills on the table that would basically allow the government to shut down my website—my entire website—for putting up content that someone else has the rights to. It’s the equivalent of trying to perform delicate brain surgery with a meat cleaver—they’re trying to eliminate bad behavior by breaking the whole internet ecosystem.
And let’s be clear about what this is about—it’s protectionism. Big media companies don’t want innovation. They don’t like the idea that they can’t charge us $16 for a CD with only one or two good songs anymore. That was a good business. They don’t like that people are unplugging their cable and just using Netflix and Hulu instead.
The reason why people are turning to technology isn’t because they like to steal content. It’s because they pay $120 a month for cable and they really only watch two shows and some sports. Big media has been abusing consumers for years and they want to continue doing that over the medium of the internet—but they’re losing ground. Technology and the internet is inherently pro-consumer, because it empowers us and gives us more choices.
iTunes, Spotify, Kindle, and Netflix have proven that if you give us better choices and more convenience, we’re more than happy to pay for media content. This is what movie studios and the rest of the SOPA supporters need to do. Instead, they’re kicking up a notch the kind of mentality that the record industry had when it was suing its own customers instead of coming up with innovative new business models.
Back to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand. Senator Schumer spoke at Internet Week in 2011. It’s been a pretty popular move for New York area politicians to jump on the bandwagon of the emergence of New York tech growth—a phenomenon they largely had nothing to do with—and say they’re supportive of the community. He told an audience of technologists and entrepreneurs:
“What we need to do is figure out the right ways to nurture you, to encourage more people like to you come here, and to support you and those that join you, so that the businesses represented here today can thrive and grow."
Well, Senator, a group of 83 prominent internet investors and engineers wrote an anti-SOPA letter to youand the rest of Congress in December. These were people like Vint Cerf, the guy who designed the way the internet works. The people you say you want to nurture are against this bill. Yet, you’re siding with big, protectionist media companies.
It’s an embarrassment, frankly, to our tech community. If you support this bill, you are not supportive of us. All of our local politicians—our Senators, Mayor Bloomberg (his company, Bloomberg LP, is against it, but haven’t heard where he stands personally), and other policymakers need to be fighting this.
Chuck Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand need to switch their positions immediately on these bills, which should really aptly be named the “Stop Innovation on the Internet” bill. If NYC is going to fulfill its potential as an innovation hub, we can't have our senators supporting SOPA. They’re on the wrong side of history here, and they don’t understand enough about the internet and how it came to be to see why.