We have previously written about why the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is bad for innovation. The same is true of the House version of this bill which is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In fact, SOPA goes beyond PIPA in several important ways. For instance, SOPA contains anti-circumvention language that would essentially allow for government control over essential privacy software such as VPNs, proxies, and even something as fundamental as SSH. SOPA also provides for an incredibly broad right of private action that would allow content owners to interfere with the operations of payment processors and social media services such as Twitter.
For those who doubt the chilling impact on innovation, there is a brand new study by Harvard Business School professor Josh Lerner showing that investment in cloud startups increased as much as $1 billion after a court ruling that permitted cloud-based DVRs (which content companies had previously opposed). Innovation on the Internet has been enabled by key organizing principles behind the design of the Internet, including the separation of different layers and the open architecture. Vint Cerf, who together with Bob Kahn, was responsible for much of the initial design of the Internet has warned that the government is “beginning to go overboard in the protection of copyright” which will harm innovation.
Today is the beginning of hearings on SOPA. The Judiciary Committe has apparently chosen to hear from five people supporting SOPA and only one opposing comment. This is not for a lack of trying on behalf of technology companies. Several weeks ago Netcoalition, which represents Internet firms including Google, Amazon, eBay, IAC, Yahoo and PayPal, asked to be heard at the hearings but has been specifically excluded from testifying against SOPA. As Fred has pointed out this is very different from the process that resulted in the passing of the DMCA which currently governs the relationship between copyright holders and technology companies and would essentially be superseded by SOPA.
Given this imbalance in front of the Committee, it is essential that lawmakers hear from as many Internet entrepreneurs, employees and investors as possible. Some of the largest companies on the Internet, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Zynga and Twitter have all signed up to a letter expressing their opposition to the bills as currently drafted. The Protect Innovation site makes it possible to support this petition by easily sending a note to legislators. We encourage everyone to sign it.
Going one step further, we have also decided to add a “Stop Censorship” graphic to our site that overlaps our logo. This indicates our belief that the bills as currently drafted don’t just inhibit innovation but unreasonably restrict freedom of speech. SOPA comes close to establishing the American equivalent of the Chinese firewall (just lacks IP filtering) and undermines the freedom to post links which is essential to free speech on the Internet, including blogs and Twitter. We are not alone in this belief as this letter signed by over 50 law professors against an earlier version of the bill shows. If you want to join this additional protest you can find the embed code here.