SOPA Gives Me Powers That I Don't Want

from the not-in-my-name dept

I've had the privilege of working in two completely different worlds. I worked in technology, employed by Google for six years where I started and led Google Apps for Businesses. Then, I shifted into the movie business by leaving Google and producing a full length movie, Dead Inside, in LA. Our movie hits the market this week -- at a very interesting time with the copyright bill SOPA being debated in Congress.

I was amazed when I learned about the details of SOPA. This bill gives powers to content owners to easily and freely hurt many tech companies and could even go so far as to shut them down completely. Reading this from an entrepreneur's standpoint I immediately go on the defensive and hate it. After reading through the full bill, I finally realized "Wait wait wait...I'm a content owner, I could use this law." This is when I got truly scared.

As a content owner I would have power to send a simple letter to a payment processor accusing a client of theirs of copyright infringement. If the payment processor doesn't cut off a business relationship with my target within five days, they could be dragged into a convoluted legal process. I don't need to consult with a lawyer to do this, which is great because I don't even have one. I certainly can send simple letters out in my free time between takes on the set though. This is too much power for a single movie producer to have and it's way too much for any one else to have. A large tech company could defend itself in court, but small startups don't stand a chance.

The fact that many tech companies are very small and overly susceptible to the impact a simple accusation could have under SOPA is lost on many folks. While I was in LA, people on our set asked me what I did in addition to working the movie. I told them that "some of my time is spent advising tech startups." While a typical response in the Valley would be "Oh wow, which startups?" I was surprised to hear back "Oh, what's a startup?" After discussing this, many people on our set did not understand that most large tech companies start as two guys in a garage with an idea. Their concept of tech companies only included large firms of the world like Google and Apple. Now I understood that when people look at these laws, the concerns of small companies might be ignored because in some minds its obvious that tech companies have large legal arms to defend themselves.

In reality though, most of the large tech companies that exist today were once very small and very fragile. If SOPA was in place, those companies would have never grown up, since the two guys in a garage would have required four lawyers to survive. Dropbox is a perfect example. Created by some college students, the company provides shared online storage space for a fee. Under SOPA, the company would have been cut off from its revenues as soon as a single accusation was made that it was hosting copyrighted material. As a small company this could have been crippling. Today though, I know that Dropbox is one of the most popular tools in the movie industry, since it allows easy sharing of new daily shots, music cues, draft movie posters and more. The innovative tech companies of the future will be extinguished before they have a chance to even get out the door.

With our movie finished and coming onto the market, I'm looking forward to using technology to get our movie out to the world. I want to work with startups that are coming up with new distribution methods. I want to see new abilities to connect with our future fanbase. I want to see more methods of movies getting crowdfunded so viewers get to have more of a say over which movies they want made. Any company that might start solving these problems though would be at risk under SOPA of getting squashed. While my movie could be the one which shows up on those new sites, I already have tools at my disposal (like the DMCA) to deal with it. SOPA allows me to have an easier time protecting my copyrighted material, but the cost is too great.

Filed Under: copyright, movies, power, protect ip, sopa

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2011 @ 1:55pm



    Google's first servers photo. w

    Apple I photo:

    Dropbox can easily avoid issues by knowing their customers, and not to hide those customers behind their "safe harbor".

    Yah right that is why every content owner can easily avoid issues like piracy knowing their customers right?

    As for "big tech companies", let me assure you that, if X had not happened, Y would have. We might have a different landscape today, but there would be something there. The vacuum is too great.

    Then we can agree that content owners have nothing to fear because since the void is to great, they will get paid one way or another independent of piracy levels :)

    Remember too: long before there was DMCA that created all of these "business models" that hinge on safe harbours, there was content online, it was being distributed, access was being sold to it, and money was made. Pay for membership porn dates back to 1994 or 1995 - selling access to content has been around a lot longer than youtube. The models evolve based on the laws at the time, and with SOPA, some things will change and new models will evolve.

    Don't forget those business only happened because there was no way to stop them from being there, the DMCA only came along to slow progress and increase liability which reduced the ferocious pace of innovation in those years.

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