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Summary:

SOPA and PIPA bills, both in their substance and, significantly, the process by which they have moved along, fail this test. As such, they reveal a disturbing picture about the policy process in Washington and threaten to create significant and unintended consequences.

bradfeld

In the last 30 days, there has been a loud and clear backlash against two bills – SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act). SOPA is the House version of the bill; PIPA is the Senate version of the bill.  For starters, I must emphasize that I agree that online piracy is a real problem — and, as an author, I deal with it all of the time — and that it is important to look for appropriate solutions.

Unfortunately, these bills, both in their substance and, significantly, the process by which they have moved along, fail this test. As such, they reveal a disturbing picture about the policy process in Washington, D.C. and threaten to create significant and unintended consequences if they are passed. And their passage was a real possibility before the tech and entrepreneurial communities spoke up.

The problems with these bills have been well-documented. I leave to others to discuss just how and why provisions authorizing a private right of action, or that leave an overly broad definition of affected websites, pose a threat to innovation and free speech. Rather than try to describe these problems, I’d like to explore what’s going on behind the scenes.

The way I see it, SOPA / PIPA is a very simple case of a small, very powerful set of industry incumbents (in this case, certain media companies, led by organizations like the MPAA) trying to use complex legislation to slow down the disruption of their industry. Ultimately, this becomes a debate between the incumbents and the innovators, the old and the new, the disrupted and the disruptors. In such debates, the incumbents tend to prevail, and the voice of the innovators — many of whom are too busy with their companies to focus on Washington or who may not yet exist — are rarely heard.

Talk to your representatives

I first heard about SOPA and PIPA in the fall. I sat down in a quiet space, printed out each bill, and read them carefully. If you’ve ever read a congressional bill, then you know that it’s hard work; they are written in a special version of English that only a lawyer could love (and I’m not a lawyer). As I read them, I got increasingly nauseous. I checked with a few friends who were lawyers to make sure I understood them, and when I did, was appalled. In my least charitable moments, I wondered why our Congress was spending time on this when there are so many more pressing issues for our country to deal with.

I then started exploring how these bills came together. I started by talking to my representative in the house, Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Jared is a very successful Internet entrepreneur (founder of BlueMountainArts.com and Provide Commerce) who has led the charge in the house against SOPA. Jared is one of the few people in Congress who has direct experience with and understanding of the Internet. I then spoke to my Senator, Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Mark just came out against PIPA and, while he is not an Internet entrepreneur, he is a huge believer in innovation and willing to explore, in-depth, the dynamics of legislation regarding innovation.

In each case, the story of how this legislation got this far is distressing. I watched the House Judiciary hearing where the chairman, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who is also the sponsor of SOPA, unilaterally shut down virtually every amendment being proposed to improve SOPA so that it made sense. I then learned that Chris Dodd, a former Senator is now the CEO of the MPAA, which had a deep hand in crafting PIPA.  As I dug deeper, the insider game got worse.

Entrepreneurs don’t support it

More distressing, I searched in Colorado in the business and entrepreneurial community for anyone who supported either bill. I could not find anyone. Most people had never heard of either bill (this was last fall) and, when they heard about them, they had the same reaction that I did. So I started speaking out against the bills, publicly, and loudly.

Initially, those promoting SOPA and PIPA responded by being more forceful. The backlash quickly built, and starting in mid-December, the innovation economy and Internet community kicked into full gear decrying these bills in terms ranging from idiotic to unconstitutional. Then the politics really began. The proponents of these bills started referring to them as “jobs bills” and talked about the massive loss of jobs if they were defeated. Senior executives at large media companies forcefully defended the bills and lied about what was in them, and what their impacts would be.

We are now in an untenable situation. Both SOPA and PIPA are toxic. My view is that anyone who supports these bills either doesn’t understand what they are supporting or is simply no friend of innovation. And, if you are no friend of innovation, I can’t support you in any way, as innovation is the lifeblood of our economy, our country, and what I’ve dedicated my life to.

So, let’s call on our Congressmen to stop this nonsense, hit reset, and, if this issue is one that they really want to address, do so in a balanced, thoughtful way. It’s time to bury both SOPA and PIPA, and try again.

Brad Feld is the founding partner of The Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based venture firm. He blogs at Feld.com.
  1. about piracy .. no one from a culture that is not in thrall to a heavy concept of individualism would think twice about it as a problem .. this is an american disease, NOT global.

    my suggestion, grow up.

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    1. Piracy isn’t an American problem you dolt. The U.S. isn’t the only individualistic country. In fact, a large amount of pirated materials come from Russia, Sweden, Finland and China in ADDITION to the U.S. Don’t talk about something if you know nothing about it.

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  2. Piracy is a problem and must be stopped, by technology and user efforts, not by some congressmen nor senator. problem is that this protest is too small too irrelevant, a shot in the dark.
    My suggestion is print every tweet, every share, every article and comment and mail it (best via US postal service, they may make a buck there) have billions of nonsense to be send to each one of them. USE RECYCLED PAPER

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  3. Bottom line. Both of these bills are a gateway to restricting whatever the gov wants from the internet, whenever they want…harnessing the power of what you hear, see and read on the internet.

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    1. For those of you who want no laws to stop offshore piracy, then lets do it without laws… it can be done without laws.

      Say one day you get in your car turn the key to start it, and Kaboom!!

      Why not do it the way the Mafia does, simply snuff out the enemy. It’s easy, clean, only effects the problem people and doesn’t harm your silly little minds that are helplessly manipulated by Google and others trying to protect their share prices…. freedom?

      BaHaHahHa! this is only about advertising money and expanding the number of page views.

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  4. This is just terrible….SOPA is the equivalent of curing a headache with a guillotine. It may stop piracy, but it would shut down our economy and unconstitutionally erode our most basic freedoms in the process.

    I just hope that everyone realizes how important this is and does their part to save the internet & our economy! …here is another good video that explains the consequences of SOPA pretty well:
    http://www.peeje.com/peeje-goes-strike-stop-web-censorship-bills-congress-209/

    1,000s of more websites have joined the force and went dark today, we need EVERYONES help!!!!

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  5. Ben Joseph Archuleta Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    SOPA and PIPA need to be stopped there both monsters.

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  6. Andrew Stergiou Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    IN PROTEST OF SOPA AND PIPA,
    WE HAVE MAYBE 12 hours TO BLACK OUT THE INTERNET!
    I MEAN THE WHOLE INTERNET, ALL OF IT!

    Can’t be too difficult if every acted with a minimum of effort?

    BLACK OUT TO REESTABLISH AN ACTIVE CIVILIAN PRESENCE ON THE INTERNET!
    BLACK UP AGAINST CENSORSHIP AND UNLAWFUL INTRUSIONS!
    BLACK OUT AGAINST IT CORPORATE ABUSES!

    BLACK OUT IN A PRESENCE WHERE THE CORPORATE ELITE IS MEANINGLESS!

    I see an internet I want it painted BLACK
    BEFORE TODAY IS OVER, I want it painted BLACK
    I WANT NO THE PROFILE PHOTOS In their cheerful tones
    ON FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE PLUS
    PROFILES SHOULD BE BLACKED OUT!

    http://zito.biz/fuckyou/?p=2630
    http://templeofreason.org/news/?p=2787

    ██ ████████ ██████ ██████████ ██ ████ ██ ████ ██████████ ██. ███ ███ This comment has been found in violation of H.R. 3261, S.O.P.A and has been removed.

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  7. Brett – I respectfully disagree. I’ve continued to read each bill after the managers amendments and read them again as recently as last week. My view is based on the current state of the bills.

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    1. Richard Bennett Thursday, January 19, 2012

      You offer no specific criticisms of the bills, only vague assertions about their alleged “toxicity.”

      The first draft of sOPA was a mess, granted.

      But now that DNS filtering and US-based sites have been removed from SOPA, it’s hard to object on a reasoned basis.

      Opposing a bill because it’s unpopular with a group of people who don’t know what it does isn’t convincing.

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    2. Hey, maybe they can give your lame column to Kim Dotcom, and he can write it from jail. Then he can give us both sides of the story. The glee, and the remorse.

      Let’s face it, lots of idiot CEO’s and tech writers have gotten themselves on the wrong side of what is really going on with piracy.

      Kim Dotcom doesn’t create jobs or freedom, and neither do many of these pathetic columns.

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  8. You know, I don’t know the details of this bill. So I try to get a feeling for it by who is for it and who is against it, and how each side acts. The title of one article gave me a clue: “The Day the Web Went DarK” was one title. (others invoked the dark ages, etc.). Now, I’ve been using the web all day. Except for the stupid black stripe over the word “Google”, there has been no difference. So I say to myself, these people live in a fantasy land. They think that it becomes true just because they said it. Kind of like the Occupy idiots, the main scream media, and democrats in general. So now I have a pretty good idea if this is a decent bill. I just caught one side lying out their arses, and expecting me to be stupid enough to believe it.

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  9. One of the many problems I see with SOPA is that the lawmakers are taking the same approach to piracy that they tried to take with firearms. The problem with mass legislation, is that laws are not going to stop criminals from doing crime.

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