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.
Can the Internet Save the Internet
It’s finally here! American Censorship Day is in full swing, with sites like AVC and upstart search engine DuckDuckGo censoring their banners in protest of the proposed anti-piracy bills going before a Congressional hearing. Yesterday the titans of the internet sent a letter to Coongress opposing the new SOPA bill. Sadly none of them have joined the American Censorship day movement. But luckily tech’s best big mouth, Eric Schmidt, got a few choice words in.
Back when he was CEO of Google, Mr. Schmidt was always getting into trouble for saying wild, borderline creepy stuff. But now that he is executive chairman, the man can finally let it rip without being the final word from Google. As Reuters reports, auring an appearance yesterday at MIT, Mr. Schmidt declared, “”The solutions are draconian. There’s a bill that would require (internet service providers) to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked.”
For the last couple of weeks venture capitalists and startup founders have been raising the alarm over new anti-piracy legislation making its way through Congress that would fundamentally endanger the functioning of a free internet.
Betabeat chatted with Fred Wilson yesterday, who said that this fight is part of a broader attempt to protect the innovation economy. “I hope that that big tech companies see that and join us in making our voice heard on this issue.”
Mr. Wilson and his partner Brad Burnham went down to D.C. to put in facetime with politicians. “We’re at a disadvantage here. The entertainment industry is a lot older, more mature, with deeper influence in Washington.”
The best chance for the tech industry? Getting the word out through those powerful online networks. “We’re hoping the internet can save the internet,” Mr. Wilson said.
Well, consider the call answered. Today, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla Corp, Twitter, Yahoo! and Zynga all signed on to a letter to Congress opposing SOPA:
In the ongoing quest to end the vile practice of illegally downloading music and movies, Congress is considering new legislation, SOPA, or Stop Online Piracy Act. But according to the EFF, the new law would allow for domain takedowns and eliminate the DMCA safe harbor, radically shifting the level of enforcement possible.
Citrin Cooperman, the 28th largest accounting firm in the country, was just fined $385,000 for having illegal copies of Adobe, Corel, Microsoft, and Symantec software installed on its computers. “As part of the settlement agreement, the company agreed to delete all unlicensed copies of software from its computers, acquire any licenses necessary to become compliant, and commit to implementing stronger software asset management (SAM) practices,” the Business Software Alliance, which polices pirated enterprise software, said in a press release.
BSA said it became aware of the piracy thanks to a tip submitted through its website, nopiracy.org, which gives out rewards for tips that lead to a monetary settlement. The tipster could receive up to $20,000 in this case.
Poor Hulu. Born to a conglomerate of traditional TV networks that finally admitted they needed to do something about this whole, “web video” world, the company was always caught in a kind of Cronos paradox: the parents might kill their own child rather than let it grow up to threaten their power.
Recently the networks decided they would be better off selling Hulu to somebody else, making it easier down the road to reap lucrative fees for licensing the content they currently put on Hulu for free. But now it seems Fox has decided it can’t even wait for that sale to go down before basically cutting Hulu off at the knees.
The News Corp. network has announced that starting August 15th it will no longer put shows on Hulu the day after they air.