Last week’s historic protests made clear just what the tech community and Internet users are capable of accomplishing when they act together – not only have the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), been tabled for now, but in a welcome change, the public debate has increasingly considered the interests of Internet users and the opinions of those who actually understand how the technology works. Despite this, we keep hearing people ask: what’s next? And where do we go from here? Our answers: We don’t need legislation. And let’s keep moving innovation forward.
The answer to maintaining an open, thriving Internet does not lay in legislation, but rather in fostering innovative (and oftentimes disruptive) business models that allow content creators to get paid and consumers to have easy and efficient access to content. We’ve seen time and again that consumers are willing to pay at a price point that makes sense for them – this is Economics 101. When new business models emerge, artists and fans win. It’s only the traditional distributers and gatekeepers (we’re looking at you, MPAA and RIAA) who lose, so it’s no wonder that those parties desperately tried to ram through dangerous legislation to stop disruptive new business models, with no regard for the attendant serious potential collateral damage. Remember, these are the lobbies that have a history of attacking nascent technologies as far back as the player piano.
A modern day case in point: last week’s public takedown of MegaUpload. We’ve only heard one side of the story so far, so let’s set aside the many outstanding legal questions. But it’s clear that many artists were using the site to connect with their fans. Given the legacy media companies’ reluctance to innovate internally, it’s especially unfortunate that the dramatic takedown of MegaUpload could chill future innovators who would otherwise experiment with new business models.
To be sure, there are plenty of exciting new content services emerging. For example, take the Humble Indie Bundle, video game developers who have realized substantial success devising a pay-what-you-want scheme for distributing video games. Or artists like Jonathan Coulton, who has, with much success, produced and distributed his own music (and who recently provided this pithy advice to creators who reject new business models but complain about piracy: "Make good stuff, then make it easy for people to buy it. There’s your anti-piracy plan.").
Everyday, examples like Humble Indie Bundle, Jonathan Coulton, and others (such as Louis C.K. and Nina Paley, for example) are becoming the norm, not the exception. And, in doing so, they make the best case against those in D.C. who claim that we need dangerous and overbroad laws to save an antiquated business model. Instead, we need to protect the open Internet that is only beginning to realize its promise of revolutionizing not just the way we do business, but the ways we communicate, interact, and democratically govern ourselves.
For that reason, we will continue to monitor (and, where necessary, take on) the fights in D.C. and the courts that threaten an open and innovative Internet. Join us in that fight, won’t you?