New York protest takes PIPA/SOPA fight to senators

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Members of New York’s tech community, a couple thousand strong, braved the winter chill outside the offices of New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to protest the PIPA and SOPA legislation Wednesday. The assembly, organized by New York Tech Meetup, highlighted the rising importance of New York’s tech community, which has grown  in recent years and often deals with the kind of user-generated content that could be targeted by the PIPA and SOPA bills. Schumer and Gillibrand are both co-sponsors of PIPA, also known as the Protect IP Act, the senate version of the SOPA or Stop Online Piracy Act.

Speakers lashed out against the legislation, calling it an overreaching tool to stop piracy brought by old media industries that are trying to buy laws through lobbying, rather than innovate. They said the danger of the bills could be crippling for New York’s tech community and for the city at large, which increasingly looks to the tech sector as an engine for growth.

“These are tech entrepreneurs who would rather be in front of their computers innovating but they’re out here to save our industry,” said Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit. “The Internet is often described as this vague thing but there are real people who use it and it’s a platform for people to get things done.”

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Joel Spolsky, founder of Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow said the proposed legislation won’t achieve its goals of stopping piracy and stimulating jobs. But it could have dire effects on the Internet if enforced.

“This fundamentally breaks the Internet,” said Spolsky of the legislation. “A lot of the new job growth here is from the Internet in the tech industry and a lot of that is user-generated content. It’s technically impossible to police that content perfectly. The idea that you can take down an entire domain name with all the collateral damage is overkill. It’s a nuclear option.”

Brad Burnham, a partner at Union Square Ventures, said the vagueness of the bill could hurt investments in start-ups, who may get caught up in the enforcement of piracy.

These bills, “are very broad and poorly worded and designed to sweep up as many companies as possible,” he said. “I believe a lot of companies will be affected.”

Clay Shirky, an NYU professor and technology author, said SOPA should be labeled the “First Amendment Sunset Act,” because of the way it affects Internet user’s ability to speak freely. He said the old media industry is trying to create a chilling effect that ultimately discourages free speech and debate.

“What they’re (senators Schumer and Gillibrand) saying to us is this: everyone’s got a choice, the Internet, the First Amendment, corporate control of public speech. Pick two,” he said.

 

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