In front of a passionate crowd of nearly 2,000 people earlier today, NYConvergence was on hand to see Alexis Ohanian of Reddit display the sympathy cards he addressed to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand over the death of the Internet. Ohanian told an Emergency New York Tech Meetup gathering that the PIPA and SOPA bills in Congress would mean the wholesale destruction of one the healthiest parts of the economy.
The emergency meetup was called to demand that the two NY Senators drop their support of PIPA. Held outside the Senators’ Manhattan offices, the sidewalk in front of 780 Third Ave. was barricaded off. Dozens of police stood by as an orderly crowd cheered in opposition to the proposed legislation.
Several members of the tech industry, media and venture capital community took the opportunity to speak out against both PIPA and SOPA.
New York University Professor Clay Shirky said that SOPA resembles sunset legislation on the first amendment. “If you were to enforce the first amendment – there are all these crazy things that go along with it–like no prior restraint,” he said. “And that means you can’t just shut people up if you don’t like what they are saying.”
Andrew McLauglin of Tumblr said that in 200 years, people will see the Internet as this generation’s contribution to human progress. “It’s that important. And it’s important that we not screw it up.”
Before the event started, Nate Westheimer, executive director of the New York Tech Meetup said that today marks a turning point in NY’s tech industry. Until now, the tech community has always been focused on building value and being innovative
“That’s our job,” he told NYConvergence. “And now we realize we have a second job—which is to protect our industry. Everyone in the New York tech community and the New York Tech Meetup looks at this and says we can make a difference.”
Westheimer said laws are so draconian that it was easy to mobilize massive support.
VC Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures said the proposed legislation would make it difficult to continue to invest in the tech sector. “It creates so much uncertainty around what’s legitimate behavior and what’s not.” Burnham also said that the proposed legislation arose out of a flawed process. “The entertainment industry thought there would be opposition—which has turned out to be the case,” he said. “They thought they could sneak it through without anybody paying attention.” Because of that, the legislators never got the benefit of the tech industry’s concerns. Burnham also said that younger staff members understand the importance of these issues. But the powerful entertainment lobbies court the senior staff and the legislators.
“And they are not that savvy about what it is and don’t understand what they’ve been asked to do here,” he told NYConvergence.
Paul Callendar of SurfaceMimic said that the piracy issues raised by the entertainment industry are just a red herring. Instead, SOPA and PIPA are overreaching pieces of legislation without due process.
“Small companies, the vibrancy of the Internet, due process and freedom of speech ultimately we be curtailed by bills like this,” Callendar said.
He said the proposed legislation puts anything with user-generated content at risk. He said that small companies like Reddit, with just a handful of employees, couldn’t possibly police the millions of comments on their site.
“It would be a complete disaster,” Callendar said. “It’s not even feasible.”
For more from today’s event, please see the video below.