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SOPA, PIPA and the Fight to Save the Internet

from left to right: Hamish Chandra, Sen. Jerry Moran, Alexis Ohanian, Christian Dawson, Leah Belsky, Micah Schaffer

Yesterday I got to be part of something huge. I spent the day on Capitol Hill as an advocate for small business on the Internet, and met with Congressmen and Hill staffers to discuss the impact of two pieces of legislation currently making their way through Congress: the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House. And today I get to report huge progress in our fight to protect a fair, competitive Internet in America.

As the story is always told, it’s impossible to beat big money in politics, and SOPA and PIPA are most definitely backed by big money — very big money. But with no funding whatsoever, we have been able to get our message across, and we’ve been able to bounce a few painful rocks off of Goliath’s noggin on this one. He hasn’t fallen over yet, but we managed to get him reeling a little.  For those who want the breaking news, I’ll cut to the chase right away.

The status of PIPA, as of yesterday, was that it was likely to pass in the Senate if it were allowed to come up for a vote, but that Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was holding it up through procedural means, something he couldn’t keep up alone forever. Yesterday, among the people we addressed were Senator Jerry Moran (R – KS) and senior staffers for Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). We explained our major concerns about what PIPA would do to the Internet economy. Sen. Moran was a former sponsor of PIPA, but he listened intently to our concerns. Today I am extremely proud to announce that Moran, Cantwell — as well as Senator Rand Paul (R – KY) — have issued a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joining Ron Wyden in his hold on allowing PIPA to come to a vote in the Senate. That doesn’t end our battle, but it is a huge bipartisan step in the right direction!

For those who have the patience to read further, I’ll go on to tell my story about why I was there and why the fight against PIPA and SOPA is so important to us.

I was invited by our friends at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) to join them in a series of meetings, in which I was asked to represent the perspective of the web hosting industry. Also with me for the day were small business consultant Micah Schaffer (a.k.a. YouTube Employee #11), Leah Belsky of the Internet video enablement tool Kaltura, Hamish Chandra Internet advertising guru (and the guy behind the ‘Got Milk’ ads), and Alexis Ohanian co-founder of Reddit.com.

Out of hundreds of web hosts, ServInt got the nod to explain our industry’s viewpoint because, 1) ServInt started as a small business and continues to serve the hosting needs of many thousands of small- to medium-sized businesses, and 2) because of ServInt’s leadership role in the Save Hosting Coalition, a consortium of Internet infrastructure providers that I helped found in order to give voice to our industry in public policy matters.

We went office to office, talking with members of Congress and their staffers about the impact that PIPA and SOPA would have if these bills are passed.

My pitch was fairly simple:  as hosting providers, we are on the front lines of the fight against Internet piracy every day, working side by side with law enforcement, and our efforts are guided by the tools within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  We know how to do this.

Unlike PIPA and SOPA, the DMCA preserves due process of law. If somebody alleges infringement, we work with the accuser and the alleged infringer to address the potentially infringing content. As long as all parties act responsibly and follow procedure, we keep the site itself online and operational through the discovery process.

PIPA and SOPA are designed as an end-run around the protections that the DMCA affords. These bills would create a situation where an Internet infrastructure provider (be it a host, a registrar, a payment processor, an advertiser or a datacenter provider) would be faced with a choice when provided a notice of infringement:  take down the site completely and receive full legal immunity for doing so, or leave the site online and—even if you continue to work with the client to remove the infringing content—risk litigation as a party who has taken on the liability of acting ‘in concert’ with the alleged infringer.

To put it in simpler terms:  if you walked into Best Buy and saw something on the shelf you thought was pirated merchandise, under a law like the DMCA you would work with the store to get that product off the shelf. Under a law like PIPA or SOPA, you would force the landlord to close Best Buy.

Innovation cannot thrive in such an environment. Businesses won’t tolerate continuing to host on U.S.-based servers with the uncertainty that this model creates. I was there, along with my innovative compatriots, to warn legislators about the folly of trying to enact these laws. Enacting SOPA and PIPA to combat copyright infringement, we argued, would be like using a flamethrower to find a needle in a haystack.

Members of the Save Hosting Coalition care about the businesses we host, and we feel it’s our responsibility to take a leadership position in ensuring that the United States continues to be as stable and predictable an environment for business and IT innovation as possible. This is why we are publicly opposed to PIPA and SOPA, and why I took time away from my day job to talk to Congress.

The great thing is that a lot of the folks we talked to really listened. We had fantastic conversations with legislators in both houses of Congress, and on both sides of the political spectrum. By far the best meetings we had on the Hill were our sit-downs with Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas and Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah – two Republican Congressional leaders who listened intently to what we had to say, and who really seemed to understand our concerns.

Our concerns center around jobs and innovation and the economy. But at the same time we acknowledge and respect of the plight of copyright holders, who should have sensible recourse to address piracy on the Internet. We spent a lot of time discussing smarter ways to approach solving these same problems—ones that would continue to provide American sites with the business stability that traditional due process of law provides.

This is a vitally important issue for the Internet, and our work is far from over.  If you’re a host, or a reseller, these bills can still severely damage your business, and you still need to worry about them.  Bottom line:  we still urgently need your help.  In addition to reaching out to your own Representatives and Senators to let them know you oppose PIPA (in the Senate) and SOPA (in the House), I strongly encourage you you check out SaveHosting.org and sign on to our two letters opposing those pieces of legislation. Help us keep the Internet in America free, fair and competitive.

Also, take a look at a statement I provided to Congress prior to their hearing on SOPA on November 16th.

And finally — please take a moment to sign the petitions here:

SaveHosting.org/pipapetition
SaveHosting.org/sopapetition

I don’t want to get too wound up about this, but there’s something else I want to say:  what yesterday’s activities taught me was that democracy can still work, if enough smart, dedicated people get involved.  I didn’t see any partisan pettiness yesterday.  I heard intelligent, sensible people talking to each other, trying to do the right thing for the internet industry and for our country.  I learned that informed, reasonable people can make a difference.  You can make a difference.  Please help.  Sign our petitions, and call or write your congressman today.

 

About Christian Dawson

Christian Dawson has been with ServInt since 1998 and has helped it grow into one of the most innovative Cloud providers in the world. As ServInt's COO, he has spearheaded its green initiative, and drives ServInt's efforts in fighting for customer privacy and consumer protections. He does so in part as co-founder and Chairman of the industry trade association, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition). You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.


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