New York City’s tech community went offline and into the streets yesterday to protest the increasingly unpopular anti-piracy bills Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), currently being mulled by members of Congress.
Nearly 200 protesters rallied in front Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand's offices, demanding the senators drop their support of the bills.
SOPA and PIPA legislation is designed, among other things, to give the U.S. government the ability to shut down access to foreign websites that share pirated movies, unlicensed music and counterfeit goods. Schumer and Gillibrand are just two of the dozens of members of Congress who support the bill.
Supporters of the bills argue that by fighting online piracy, they are protecting jobs, but opponents say the laws clear the way for online censorship.
“This is a horrible law,” said Peter Lidner, 62, an iPhone app developer who lives in Union Square. “This is America, not communist China.”
The protest was organized through MeetUp.com, and CEO and founder of the company, Scott Heiferman was on hand. “This will cripple the internet,” said Heiferman. “[Schumer and Gillibrand] are pandering to big media.”
Heiferman called SOPA and PIPA “silly” and insisted today was only the beginning of anti-SOPA and PIPA efforts. “We’re standing our ground,” he said.
Protesters believe the senators support the bill at the behest of entertainment and media lobbyists.
“They are protecting copyright holders at the expense of everyone else. This is a grave threat to American innovation and our freedom of speech,” said David Carroll, 36, a Parsons University professor that lives in Cobble Hill. “It would basically destroy the start-up industry in the world.”
The bill has undergone many changes and will most likely undergo more, but protesters say no amount of tinkering will make the proposed laws palatable.
“Whatever small tweaks and changes they make, it’s still a power struggle between the large media institutions and innovation on the internet,” said Park Slope resident Cassidy Leerman, 30, a media studies graduate student at the New School. “They need to leave it alone.”
Senators Gillibrand and Schumer issued a joint statement in response to protesters cries.
"There are two important issues in this debate: continued freedom of expression on the Internet and the ability to block online piracy. We believe that both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns.
"We've had many discussions and held many meetings with all parts of the Internet community - from users, to members of the NY Tech Meet-up, to start-ups, to big Internet firms like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo - to hear their concerns regarding this proposed legislation, and we'll continue those discussions.
"After constructive dialogue with many in the technology community, we have worked to make an important change in the bill regarding DNS provisions. We will continue to work with our colleagues to ensure a proper balance between stopping the theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement, and doing so without the unintended consequence of stifling or censoring the internet, which we strongly oppose. We have worked to make sure there are due process protections to ensure that legal activity over the Internet is not disrupted and that the web continues to be a place of innovation, intellectual freedom, and an unrestricted platform for the free exchange of ideas -- and we welcome additional suggestions. 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."