NEW YORK—The New York technology community is worried about possible ramifications of proposed legislation that they say would threaten innovation on the Internet and quickly undermine the city’s thriving technology sector.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate were introduced to prevent online piracy. Detractors, including Google and Facebook, say the bills would, if passed, give unprecedented power to the government to censor the Internet and interfere with its regular operation.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer have co-sponsored PIPA.
The New York Tech Meet Up (NYTM) held a protest in front of the senators’ offices on Third Avenue on Wednesday to “physically and publicly demonstrate our collective concern at the unprecedented attack currently being made on the Internet and the New York tech industry” by the bills, according to a handout.
The group has more than 20,000 members, and holds monthly meetings showcasing new technology.
The protest drew more than 2,000 people, including prominent members of the tech world, such as Alexis Ohanion, co-founder of reddit.com; Clay Shirky, professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program; and David Karp, CEO and founder of Tumblr.
“We are here because we’re fighting against the wholesale destruction of one of the healthiest parts of America’s economy,” said Ohanion. He asked protesters to raise a hand if the company they worked for is hiring. The majority of the crowd raised their hands.
Nate Westheimer, executive director of NYTM said, “This industry has exploded, and is now the most important industry in New York City for the future.”
The city encourages growth in the tech industry, with initiatives including creating incubators for startups, and announcing an Applied Sciences campus competition, which Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology won in December.
Companies including Yelp and Tumblr have recently opened offices in the city, and Facebook plans to open an office—the first outside the West Coast—this year.
According to ProPublica, PIPA currently has support from 48 senators, and is opposed by only 6. The other 46 senators are classified as unknown.SOPA currently has 32 representatives in support, including Peter King and Bill Owens of New York—co-sponsors of the bill. In opposition are 25 representatives, along with 376 unknown, including the other 27 New York representatives. (These numbers are updated frequently here (PIPA) and here (SOPA))
A joint release from Sens. Gillibrand and Schumer says: “While the threat to tens of thousands of New York jobs due to online piracy is real and must be addressed, it must be done in a way that allows the Internet and our tech companies to continue to flourish,” they stated.
Over the weekend, the White House came out against the bills in a blog post.
At the protest, Martin Theodores, a retiree who lives in Manhattan, said that the bills should not be passed in their present form.“Censorship is a long slippery road,” Theodores said. “They’re trying to ram it through without discussion.”
Michelle McCombs, who used to work for Disney in the video streaming department, said piracy was a big issue there combated by “a crack legal team.”
An alternative to the bills, McCombs said, is entertainment companies—such as major bill supporter the Motion Picture Association of America—“understanding the market. People don’t want to pay 35$ for a Blu-ray they’ve never seen.”