The websites for Wikipedia and Reddit may have been dark yesterday, but the streets of New York were quite alive. Protesters answered the call for an emergency tech meetup by gathering at the midtown offices of Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to stand up against the anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA.
Andrew McLaughlin of Tumblr, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, Antonia Abraham of BetaWorks, and Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures were a few of those who spoke to a crowd of more than 1000 protesters (estimated by on-duty officer Cioffi). By and large, their messages were the same. First of all, they're angry that congress didn't consult them on bills that propose fundamental changes to the architecture of the Internet, and they're palpably distressed that lobbyists for the entertainment industry got the call instead.
Secondly, they made it clear that if they had been asked for their opinion they would have explained how SOPA and PIPA will deal fatal blows to much of the innovation that is now germinating in the New York start-up community.
Michael O'Leary, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America, told congress last November that online piracy was threatening jobs in the entertainment industry. Today, opponents argued that SOPA would probably not squash illegal downloading, but it would certainly kill job at Internet start-ups. Here is what Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of Reddit had to say about that.
Andrew McLaughlin, the vice president of Tumblr, also talked about jobs but called on this generation of Congress to be stewards of a free and open Internet and asked members to weigh this responsibility when considering whether to enact a law that would effectively censor online information. Here's how he put it.
Brad Burnham, a partner at Union Square Ventures, also made an interesting point about how SOPA and PIPA would change the relationship between Internet companies and their customers. He explained that with most Internet start-ups, the users are part of the product being sold.
Websites like Yelp, Foursquare, and Craigslist provide services that are completely useless without a community of users, and their participation determines the growth of these companies. In contrast, entertainment companies have branded large portions of their users as thieves and pirates. SOPA and PIPA attempt to control the relationships that websites have with their users, turning them into punitive agents by forcing them to betray their own customers. "They really don't understand how we think of our users," said Burnham.
As the sun went down on this day of action, senators were already turning away from the legislation. Mark Rubio of Florida and Orrin Hatch of Utah have both pulled their support, according to the New York Times.
Here are a few more pictures of the event.
Photo and video credits: Morgen E. Peck