Why SOPA and PIPA will greatly harm Innovation

While we try to stay very apolitical on this blog — with a few exceptions — I’ve decided to join the online protests against certain legislation that is currently being considered by the US Government.

So, in support of the protest, like many other sites, we’ve gone black for a day.

These two bills — Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) — are bad policy, bad for the open Internet and bad for innovation.

I support protections such as copyright and respect the needs of content creators to be paid for their works. But these bills currently being considered by the US government are both heavy-handed and unnecessary. There are lots of laws and means for large media corporations — the primary business supporters behind these bills — such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to protect their content.

Now I can’t go into all the details of why this legislation is bad, and believe me, there are many reasons. But WRT innovation, this article from Mashable explains it fairly well.

Any site that allows users to post content is “primarily designed for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables copyright violation.” The site doesn’t have to be clearly designed for the purpose of copyright violation; it only has to provide functionality that can be used to enable copyright violation.

This means that YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. Simply providing a feature that would make it possible for someone to commit copyright infringement or circumvention (see: 09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0) is enough to get your entire site branded as an infringing site.

So every media sharing site, social network, collaborative content site, or data exchange site that currently exists, or any new applications or sites that leverages media and information sharing could be targeted with this law. And it’s not just the big guys with deep pockets that can be targeted. Keep in mind that the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) sued a Minneapolis woman for $220,000 for downloading 24 songs. Yes, $8000 per song! And they won.

Think about the implications for startups who have content sharing, or user-generated content functionality on their sites. The proposed laws put the onus on the owner of the site to, in effect, police them for potentially illegal content, and the punishments — e.g. blocking of site domain names from DNS registries — can be done without due process. Good for innovation? Absolutely not.

Even if you don’t live in the United States, you should be concerned. As you know, the US Government has a way of extending it’s reach into other countries, and other countries with sympathetic governments (cough, cough, like Canada’s current government cough, cough) will be emboldened to pass equally regressive laws or simply fall in line with the US.

So what can you do?

If you live in the United States, click here and contact your Congress person.

Not in the US, sign an online petition here, or use your online presence to spread the word.

We live in an ever increasingly interconnected world. Let’s work together to foster innovation and stop (possibly well intentioned) but clearly very poorly written legislation that could impact us all.



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