He Said He Said
Yesterday a Williamsburg-based startup called Classic Specs posted what looked like a rather damning open letter accusing one of its competitors of attempting to tamper with investors. “We’ve been having a number of great meetings with advisors and potential investors lately,” Classic Specs cofounder Andrew Lipovsky wrote. “That’s why we were surprised to hear that someone was telling them, ‘hey..make sure you know the full story behind Classic Specs (wink).’”
Who would want to spread rumors about Classic Specs, which sells its stylish glasses at Brooklyn Flea and donates a portion of its proceeds to charity? “Our sales keep growing because we have a great product that people love (and that we hand deliver if you’re nearby) and because we have a very attractive dog as a mascot,” Mr. Lipovsky wrote in the stirring letter, which embedded a picture of said pooch.
Mr. Lipovsky suspects that the rumormonger is Warby Parker: the eyeglasses e-vendor, investor darling and customer sensation, that also happens to be based in New York. Why? Because the much-larger Warby had tried to shut Classic down before, he alleged.
The story seemed to have it all: copycats, unfair competition, and underdogs, and it shot up to the top of Hacker News yesterday afternoon, garnering at last count 169 points and 71 comments. “Hipster fight,” wrote one commenter. “This whole thing makes me so glad I got LASIK a few years ago,” said another.
But what, exactly, is the beef?
Attack of the Clones
As Betabeat reported Tuesday, Flickr is making major changes–and apparently getting serious about protecting user copyright is among them. Late Friday VentureBeat published an exclusive on Flickr’s new move to combat copyright infringement by Pinterest, the wildly popular darling of digital image curators everywhere:
The startup world is rife with clones and copycats, fueled by the ease of opening up shop on the web. You can find ads on Craigslist shopping for scripts to rip off entire sites. But typically it’s the small fry who are aping the success of their larger, more established rivals.
So the folks at New York based Paperless Post were a little taken aback when they saw Postmark, a new offering from Evite, which looked to them like a total clone of their product.
To make their case, Paperless Post laid out for Betabeat the nitty gritty details of the overlap between Postmark and their service. To them, it copied the user experience and design assets, right down to individual cards. Everything had an eerie familiarity, from the pricing scheme to the name.
“We kind of stumbled on it while redesigning our logo,” said Alexa Hirschfeld, who founded the site with her brother James. “We were checking out the competitors and when we got to Evite’s postmark we had one of those moments, it was actually confusing, looking at it and then at our site, realizing we had been cloned.”
The Economist is well and known and well regarded for its intellectual and stridently capitalist takes on everything from healthcare to governance. But when considering the new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently being debated by Congress, the magazine’s editors took the unusual stance of siding against America’s big entertainment industries.
“Compared with other countries’ anti-piracy laws, SOPA is indeed draconian,” they wrote. It’s not that international, online piracy isn’t a serious problem. But targeting the companies like AT&T and Google which provide the infrastructure for web service and search is far more damaging to consumers and the internet economy than the problem demands.
Tumblr’s 32.5 million users woke up last week to a vision of a dystopian future. ““WTF,” a frustrated fashionista working on her own startup wrote to Betabeat. “I can’t see any of my god damn archives. UGGGGHHH.”
Logging in to their dashboards, where they browse the stream of posts from the blogs they follow, users were greeted with text and images that were blacked out like the redacted sections of a classified briefing.
Those obscured blogs represented Tumblr’s take on American Censorship Day, a protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was going before a hearing of the Congressional Judiciary Committee that afternoon. The bill would allow companies to sue service providers like Tumblr or Facebook for hosting content like copyrighted music files or movies, a big reversal from the safe harbor provisions which had long defined internet piracy law.
The startup community, both entrepreneurs and the investors who back them, had been raising the alarm for several weeks about their concerns that this bill would cripple their ability to innovate and damage the internet economy. But if SOPA was the first real test of the political muscle of the entrepreneurs and small-business owners who are driving the tech sector, it was a test they would fail. Whether SOPA eventually becomes law or not, the issue provided a clear illustration to many in the startup world that they may be frighteningly unprepared to navigate the dangerous waters of Capitol Hill, where buttonholing trumps beta-testing and hard-nosed lobbying beats “likes.”
“We’ve got all these blogs and these Twitter followers, but when it comes to politics, I worry that we’re the tree falling in the wood and nobody is hearing us,” said Fred Wilson, New York’s most prominent venture capitalist and an outspoken opponent of the SOPA bill.
The recent congressional hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) generated a tidal wave of protest online, with startups censoring their homepages, drafting petitions and Tumblr sending an astonishing 87,000 phone calls to elected officials. But the hearing itself was less of a success. Many of the members of the House Judiciary Committee seemed amused, annoyed and downright dismissive of the anger emanating from the tech community. We gathered together some of their statements, both for and against, to give a flavor of how our lawmakers view online piracy.