OPINION: Congress Passing SOPA Leads To Nothing But The End of Innovation

Censorship by Eric DrookerOver the past few days, there’s been a quiet rumbling taking place in the halls of the United States Congress and it’s getting louder. Our elected leaders have felt that it was their responsibility to do something that most of the real experts would have thought unreasonable: they wanted to censor the Internet. No, they didn’t use the word “censor” because that would be infringe on our rights as Americans. But they did put together some rather asinine bill that’s called the Stop Online Piracy Act and it is being aggressively pushed through the Senate to police the World Wide Web.

Oh yeah, you read that right…the World Wide Web a.k.a. the Internet. Sure, the history of the Internet can trace its origins back to its founding here in the United States, but I’m sure the inventors and people who have used it since then didn’t really think that the Internet would be something that only Americans would use to transmit information and leave people out in the cold, right? Well that’s exactly what didn’t happen and for the United States to enact a policy that would essentially police the Internet is a stretch of the imagination. The Internet is one of those few things that the world can claim as their very own — a global product that should not be interrupted or interfered with.

But I get what Congress is trying to do. They want to help stop online privacy so that we’re not going to be able to steal any patented technology, software, movies, songs, etc. and, in doing so, affect the welfare and well-being of artists, musicians, engineers, companies, and technology originating here in the United States. It makes sense, but is there a different way without passing another law that would basically further regulate the free-flowing stream of information? I see the Internet as a river and this Privacy Act (SOPA) as a dam being stuck in the middle to make whatever information the dam owners find acceptable to be released. We’re not China or Iran…we shouldn’t have these restrictions.

From a November 19, 2011 edition of the Washington Post:

The Stop Online Piracy Act has caused backlash from tech giants, one of which has left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in protest. They received some support from lawmakers as debate on the bill continues.

The United States Congress may have decided due to subtle influence from a powerful lobbyist, the US Chamber of Commerce, that SOPA was needed, but did they understand the affect it would have on American jobs and companies as well? That’s what’s happening with this careless effort. Large innovative tech companies like Google, Yahoo and even the large Consumer Electronics Association, have voiced opposition to this effort, in addition to Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Zynga, eBay, and Mozilla – they even wrote a letter to express their displeasure. The sound byte from that letter? It “pose[s] a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.

Why are we worrying about further regulation instead of actually trying to improve the situation through technological innovation. Let’s get our tech companies out there to find a way to make it harder for people to pirate software and movies. I think we’re making some progress on it, but we need to support these innovations and keep bringing and encouraging talent to stay in the United States to foster these innovations. By making it harder for innovation to be done, Congress is stifling an industry that is the source of developing products that the very people supporting SOPA is using to promote and produce their products.

According to a New York Times Op/Ed piece on SOPA, one of the things that they say about this bill is:

It would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. [SOPA] goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright.

I’m not really comfortable allowing some politician to judge the content on my website just simply because it might be anti-government in peaceful protest. And the fact that SOPA will allow private companies (per the New York Times article) to sue service providers for even allowing that content on the site. So in theory, if someone created a startup that allowed people to subscribe to view movies, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) would be able to sue them to stop because, while they might be doing it legally, this startup has encroached on the MPAA’s market? I think things will not be on a level playing field.

SOPA infographicAnd you would think that’s what Congress is planning on doing…giving these entertainment and music lobbyists more control to shutter international innovation – well it’s going to affect them. I think it’s a mater of survival for these lobbyist organizations and their members. They can’t figure out how to be creative and innovate, let alone pay attention to the amazing technology companies that can help them out, so they decide to stop anyone else from beating them to the punch. Sorry guys, but the clock doesn’t stop on innovation just because you want a “time-out”.

But bravo to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) for holding hearings in Congress earlier this month in the House Judiciary Committee to talk about SOPA and having key people there to testify: the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Motion Picture Asssociation of America, AFL-CIO, and Pfizer. It’s important to note that all of these companies were testifying in favor (supporting) SOPA, while the lone dissension was Google. All other opposition was denied the opportunity to testify in front of the committee and when it was livestreamed on the Internet, you could see that it was all about everyone in favor of this act, but that Google offering a quiet dissension. So that must mean that no one else opposed this bill, right? Wrong…and now we’re not playing fair.

Let me leave you with this tidbit…why is SOPA being hailed as the “end of the Internet”? JD Supra, a website publishing corporate law tidbits for lawyers and executies did an analysis on its failure:

To join the opposition against SOPA, you can take part by emailing your member of Congress or by voicing your concern here on Votizen.
Image Credit: Eric Drooker

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."