At the Paley Center for Media yesterday, New York tech’s paterfamilias Fred Wilson offered something largely absent from recent anti-SOPA debates: a plan for an alternative. Better yet, he wasn’t just preaching to the choir. Rather, the Union Square Ventures managing partner broke on through to the other side: media execs.
Last month, he seemed frustrated, tweeting out “#screwcable” when a feud between MSG and Time Warner Cable forced Mr. Wilson to consume pirated content if he wanted to see the (pre-Linsanity) Knicks. But during yesterday’s talk, Mr. Wilson seemed more convinced of the universality of the condition.
“Making everybody a criminal is not the way to do this,” he told the crowd in an impassioned speech, appearing visibly moved by the wrong-headedness of the government’s approach:
“We gotta fix the system so that the content is available legally on the internet in a way that it is available for people to consume it. As convenient as turning on your TV and watching HBO, that’s how convenient it has to be. The content industry has not made this content convenient to access on the internet and as a result everybody, and I mean everybody, is a pirate. Okay so in the world where everybody is breaking the law, you gotta look at the law. Is it the right law?”
Rather, as CNET reports, Mr. Wilson proposes establishing an independent group to develop “a black and white list.” He listed Hulu, Netflix, Rdio, Spotify, and Rhapsody under “the good guys.” (One could also add Boxee and Turntable.fm, both USV-backed companies, to that list.)
Then the Web sites that wish to participate would serve a pop-up notice when users tried to visit blacklisted sites.
“We’re not blocking people from the site,” Wilson continued. “The interstitial says, ‘You’re going to a site that’s on our blacklist. We believe this site contains almost entirely pirated content and by the way you can get that content legally on these whitelisted sites.'”
Wilson would like to see Google, Facebook and even Mozilla participate and if they did he would want them to report “to the world” how many people they’re sending to “MegaUpload and The Pirate Bay and the BitTorrent sites…Using technology, we train our youth to know that they’re doing something bad and how they could do something that’s good.”
It’s an intriguing proposition that seems to borrow elements from the quantified self. “You visited X number of pirated content sites today, give us back your good Internet Samaritan badge.” But even Mr. Wilson seemed skeptical about the viability of the plan, admitting, “Google should do this. They won’t but they should.” CNET was likewise dubious about whether studios and labels will bite. (The content providers favorite part, noted CNET, seemed to be when Mr. Wilson said pirate sites should be shut down.) In the wake of the outcry over SOPA and PIPA however, content providers might be willing to compromise to get some good will from the tech community.
Mr. Wilson’s invitation to the lion’s den seems like a step forward. Hopefully, the media moguls stopped fretting over perceived lost revenues long enough to pay attention to this part:
“Our children have been taught to steal,” Wilson said, “and they have been taught not just by the MegaUploads, BitTorrent (sites) and Pirate Bays but have been taught by the content industry because the content industry has not let them have what they want legally, inexpensively, and conveniently.”