Anti-piracy bills posed threat to online innovation

The Internet today is an indispensible engine of job-creation accounting for 3 million new American jobs over the past five years and a flood of new businesses and employment opportunities in Northern Colorado and Boulder.

It brings us not only new jobs, but new ways to bring families closer together and to expand educational opportunities. That’s why I’m so concerned about the unintended consequences of two bills before Congress: the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA). Both could do real damage to the online economy at a time when new jobs are needed in Colorado and across the nation.

While SOPA and PIPA differ in some technical aspects, both bills approach the Internet with the same wrongheaded approach.

We should protect American jobs by stopping unscrupulous overseas schemers from pirating our music, films and products. But SOPA and PIPA resort to job-killing litigation and Internet censorship methods such as those used in China to undermine political and religious freedom.

Both SOPA and PIPA would create an avalanche of litigation that could be used by large established companies to assault and destroy upstart competitors.

Through the private right of action provided under SOPA and PIPA, a big firm could call in its team of lawyers and sue a startup right out of business. The greatest sources of innovation and job-creation in the tech world launched from basement workbenches and even garages, which is where the late Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak formed Apple. How would they have survived with a threat like this looming over their heads?

The better approach to piracy is a bill called the OPEN Act, which I coauthored. This bill uses a targeted “follow-the-money” to eliminating foreign rogue websites.

Countries would work together under international trade law to block the forms of electronic payment that allow these sites to exist. We know this method works. When the money dries up, the sites die off. That’s the way to go after piracy.

The good news is that Americans who value Internet freedom have flooded Capitol Hill with calls and emails in recent days in opposition to SOPA and PIPA. On Jan. 18, the largest Internet protest in history took place with more than 7,000 websites going offline for the day. Even content creators, the very people these bills purport to help, have realized that SOPA and PIPA are the wrong way to go about fighting piracy. As a result, legislators are rethinking their support.

The outpouring of grassroots opposition to SOPA and PIPA has been remarkable and it has forced the bills’ authors to rethink their strategy. But we need to stay vigilant to protect the online economy and Colorado jobs. I’m going to keep working to make sure that we don’t hurt innovation and job creation in the battle to stop piracy.

Polis represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. While attending Princeton University, Polis co-founded his first company, American Information Systems, a success he followed with the launching of bluemountain.com and Proflowers.com.

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