It’s no surprise that the proposal by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to boost the government’s authority to disrupt and shutter websites that hawk or host trademark- and copyright-infringing products would draw a harsh reaction from interest groups like Public Knowledge and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), whose district includes the headquarters of Google, Facebook and Apple, blasted last week’s proposal, too, saying if the measure passed, “this would mean the end of the internet as we know it.”
That’s not surprising, given the bill allows private parties, without a hearing from a judge, to cut off ad dollars to sites they say host pirated or trademarked content; lets the government order search engines and ISPs to make it impossible for users to reach blacklisted sites; and criminalizes technology that would get around the blacklist.
However, we didn’t expect to see venture capitalists staking out a position so soon.
Signing onto the letter, which asks Dodd to end support for the Stop Online Piracy Act, are some venture capitalists like Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, which has invested in Twitter, Etsy, Kickstarter, DuckDuckgo, and Tumblr, among other companies.
A bill like SOPA creates so much liability that it would be impossible for two engineers in a garage to build the next great startup unless they also had a dozen lawyers sitting with them. We can’t help the artists and creators who were in our group with the new platforms they rely on, if these new innovative startups don’t even bother starting.
We can’t help the users and participants who want new and convenient and legitimate access to content, as well as ways to make their own content. At the end of the day, both Silicon Valley and Hollywood work best when we focus on creating and providing what our consumers want.
Smith’s legislation is expected to clear the House Judiciary Committee, which Smith heads, on Nov. 16. It has an uncertain fate on the House floor and in the Senate, where similar legislation has stalled.