Internet Innovators Appeal To Halt SOPA Internet Censorship Bill

December 14, 2011

Some of the biggest names in tech innovation launched an ad campaign appealing to Congress to not support Internet censorship legislation scheduled for a mark up and possible vote in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Piere Omidyar, founder of eBay are among more than a dozen innovators who urge Congress to “think hard before changing the regulation that underpins the Internet” with their Stop Online Piracy Act or the PROTECT IP Act.

Having created so many of the type of high value innovative jobs so often praised by politicians, they speak with deep insight when they credit the current regulatory climate for their ability to innovate and create opportunity and jobs online and ask that Congress not foreclose that opportunity for future generations of entrepreneurs. According to various news reports, the House Judiciary Chairman responded to the letter by accusing these entrepreneurs and industry leaders of not understanding SOPA and spreading lies.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association continues to oppose illegal infringement of copyright, but must strongly reject Internet filtering and censorship at home and abroad. All who value the economic and political freedom of the Internet need to join in opposing the overly broad Internet censorship and regulatory regime, which SOPA and PIPA would create. The fact that some in the House Judiciary Committee are so dismissive of the concerns of so many diverse stakeholders from cybersecurity experts and venture capitalists to human rights groups and tech industry leaders is perplexing. These new assertions that leading Internet innovators somehow don’t understand the technicalities of SOPA and how it would undermine the premises upon which their businesses are built is revealing and troubling. The following comments on the latest developments on SOPA can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black.

“When considering legislation with such potential importance, we think it is inadvisable to so cavalierly ignore input, facts and insight from so many credible concerned citizens and organizations. It is apparently unimportant to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that some of the biggest names in tech innovation are warning of the dangers of this approach to the problem they’re trying to solve.

“We are alarmed that Chairman Smith does not think Sandia National Laboratories, the overwhelming majority of Internet security experts, venture capitalists who have created over a trillion dollars of economic value, and CEOs from all over Silicon Valley and across the country do not count as reasoned opposition.  Luckily for the U.S. economy, Mr. Smith’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle who have studied the Internet ecosystem do see alternatives that are more effective in solving the problem and do less damage. They are working collaboratively and openly on an effective, measured approach to stopping online IP infringement that does not deter investment and growth in the most dynamic sector of our economy.”

“The very truncated hearing process for this legislation did not allow the Committee to engage in the kind of reasoned dialogue with the many affected, knowledgeable parties who I believe would have been able to better inform the Committee on the nature and scope of the problem and the collateral impact to legitimate U.S. companies.

“Assertions that the leading Internet innovators somehow don’t understand what SOPA would do to the free flow of information on the Internet are unfortunate. We would hazard that people like Marc Andreesson, Craig Newmark and his fellow signatories better understand the collateral damage to the Internet SOPA would impose better than the MPAA or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which benefit from, but haven’t been the creators of the Internet ecosystem.

“In addition to the apparently limited understanding of the Internet ecosystem and the economic, technological and security underpinnings thereof, we also find it disappointing the Committee lumped together its treatment of very important and valued, but distinct types of intellectual property with different rights, limitations and economic roles. I think we all instinctively know there is a difference between a song and a bolt, and a one size fits all enforcement bill is simplistically inappropriate.

“The idea that our affected companies are ‘special interests’ is understandable, but sometimes the public interest may coincide. Certainly the advocates of SOPA have a parochial, profit-maximizing focus at least as great. And we know of no Hollywood studio that has forsaken markets and profits to avoid yielding to the aggressive claims of a repressive regime. Tech companies that advance freedom and ideas of expression are constantly facing such threats and have shown their willingness to resist.

In terms of the committee’s willingess to doubt the integrity of those who have questioned the premises and impact of SOPA, we would remind all interested in understanding the reality of the situation that the data and costs of infringement and ‘piracy’ that have been asserted to this Committee and to the public to justify this legislation have been found to be seriously flawed and misleading by both private researchers and official government sources.  There is a role for Hollywood fiction, but it is not in the legislative process.

”As the depth and breadth of the opposition to SOPA demonstrates, this isn’t about one company. Many sectors are alarmed by the scope, the sweep and the rapid scheduling of this legislation. It shifts the primary burden of enforcement from one sector to another, and would invoke much harm for little real gain toward the mutual goal of curbing online infringement.

“Our tech and telecom companies do not seek to do business with or promote rogue websites and they support legislation requiring advertisers, credit card companies and others who do have business relationships with these sites to cut business ties and prohibit them from processing any payments to them. This ‘follow-the-money” approach to rogue websites is the concept behind the OPEN Act proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Issa, R-Calif., which the tech industry supports.

“Instead of rushing this bill to a markup and vote Thursday, we hope the Committee will partner with Internet and tech companies to craft legislation that would target rogue websites without threatening the Internet and innovation.”

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