Stop Internet Censorship – Protect Innovation

Below is a post I wrote for the Symplified blog:

There are bills currently making their way through congress that, if passed, will seriously effect Internet use and will have negative effects on technology innovators — both companies and individuals. This post gives a brief description of the bills, how they negatively impact technology innovation and society at large, and lastly what you can do about it.

Basics About the Bills

They are the Senate bill Protect-IP Act, and the House bill Stop Online Piracy Act (also known as the E-Parasites act) and are very similar. The positive intention behind them is to reduce piracy of copyrighted information on the Internet. Sounds good so far. The problem is how they do it. If you’ve got 4 minutes, this video is a great summary.

Since most piracy takes place outside the US, and the government can’t do anything to shut down the actual site, these bills give the government the right to legally require any infrastructure providers with US operations to block Internet access to these sites, and any websites to remove links and imbedded content. And, if they don’t comply, the companies and sites could be shut down. It also allows for entities to sue each other to remove links, embedded content, etc.

Why this is Bad for Innovation

These bills would put restrictions and create huge liabilities for any site that employs user-generated content, as it is impossible to control everything that any user is going to post on a site. There are already controls in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to protect copyrighted content, as pointed out in this Wikipedia article, and these recent bills take it too far. Google has been opposed to these new bills. Facebook, Twitter, and eBay have also recently publicly called out against them.

Fred Wilson (a prominent VC in NYC), has a great post on these bills. Even if a web technology company is not guilty, just the fact that they may have to pay huge lawyer fees to defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits could be enough to ruin them. The big companies are better able to handle lawsuits like these, but it would crush a 3 person start-up. And that would make venture capitalists less likely to invest in a new Internet technology innovation. Fred also points out that it is the technology sector that is creating jobs in America today, and bills that stunt technology innovation are bad for the economy. We need more jobs and technology is one place that is providing job growth today.

Why this is Bad for Everyone

If passed, these laws would enter us into government censorship like that in China today. While not as extensive or far reaching as China’s current laws, it’s certainly a path that leads in the exact opposite direction of freedom of speech. The Internet is one of the biggest catalysts for change and innovation we have. We should make sure it stays that way.

What You Can Do

You can go to the American Censorship website to send a letter about SOPA. You can also visit Fred Wilson’s blog post and use new technology from Votizen that turns your comments on his post into a letter about the Protect-IP act to your representatives. Last, spread the word. That’s what the Internet is all about anyway, right?

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