The Congressional Judiciary committee is debating a bill today called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which nobody in the Internet industry wants to see passed. Not surprisingly, the bill was written by lobbyists for the music and movie industries, who are frustrated by their inability to go after foreign sites filled with pirated material. The piracy problem is real, but the proposed solutions in the form of this bill and the Senate’s corresponding Protect-IP Act (PIPA) will create more problems than they solve.
Brad Burnham, a managing partner at Union Square Ventures, came into the TCTV studio in New York City to explain why SOPA is misguided and how it threatens to break the internet. There are many problems with SOPA, but some of the main ones are that it transfers liability for copyright infringement onto second parties like search engines, social networks, blogs, and all sorts of websites. It provides for DNS blocking much in the same way that China’s great firewall blocks foreign sites it does not want its citizens to see, raising a serious censorship issue since it would not take a court order to block these sites (although it is more complicated than a simple takedown notice).
But more than anything, the bill would inject a level of uncertainty into the internet which could chill the willingness of VCs like Burnham to invest as freely as they have and for founders to start internet companies in the first place. The internet is one of the few sources of job creation in the U.S. economy right now. We don’t need laws that will stifle it.