SOPA can try to stop Internet innovation, but it will fail

reblogTrying to carve out a space on the Internet is becoming difficult. A visual image of the Web is like globe with its seams literally bursting from the onslaught of content we’re producing. Retweets and reposts and likes and +1s are all virtually pushing against the surface and generously spilling over.

So social platform creation comes with its pros and cons. On the plus side, you will always find a user base – even if it’s a (relatively) small one. Facebook and Twitter integration have been a boon for that: tap their social graphs and go. Of course, you’re immediately competing with some Internet heavyweights.

But that hasn’t daunted Dmitry Shapiro. Shapiro is the founder of Anybeat, a social networking site with anonymity at its core. He’s also just introduced MingleWing, which he describes as a public square for Facebook. “Most of us spent the majority of time interacting with a limited number of people… what’s known as our social graph on Facebook,” he says. “If I want to talk to more than just my friends and family, I make something public—but only the people that see it are friends and family or those subscribed to you.” That’s where MingleWing comes in. It’s an application that integrates with Facebook to give your public posts a visual, Pinterest-like place to collect (instead of a “pin it” tool, you have a “wing it” extension), and make them visible to a much wider audience. 

minglewingMingleWing takes heavy cues from the digital discovery culture we’re living in, the highly visual post-repost dynamic that has made Pinterest and Tumblr so incredibly successful—sites that are especially targeted by SOPA and PIPA legislation. The very nature of reposting, reblogging, and repinning would put sites at risk of being shut down, without due process. And that’s something Shapiro knows all too well.

“I had a very deep personal experience with DMCA, the existing law,” he says. His video site, Veoh (which is now part of Qlipso), has become the poster child for piracy laws driving Web media into the ground.

Veoh had an innovative and inspired team, as well as serious financing from big name industry investors and partnerships with studios and broadcasters. But Universal Music Group (UMG) sued Veoh in 2007, claiming the site infringed on its copyrights.

“UMG never even sent us a request to take down the content,” says Shapiro.

The site was hit with lawsuit after lawsuit—all of which Veoh won. But the company was buried into the ground by four years of litigation and UMG appeals, leading to “many millions” spent on court fees. “We won, but we lost, because they killed the company,” Shapiro says. Hundreds of Veoh employees lost their jobs and investors lost millions of their dollars. He explains UMG had no intentions of winning money back for its content rights—the company just wanted to bury an innovator that was challenging its model.

“Big companies feel the DMCA doesn’t give them enough power to do what they want to do. They that want to stop piracy—but it’s not true. The problem is that SOPA won’t do that. The only way to try to stop pirates is to introduce products and price points that are appealing to consumers,” he says, referencing iTunes. “That’s what gets people to stop pirating.”

“The companies that support SOPA know this—what they’re trying to do is protect their turf. Their businesses are being disrupted by technology and it’s happening right in front of their eyes, and their best tool to delay this—not to stop it, they can’t stop innovation—is the tool of litigation. And that’s what happened to Veoh.”

So does this make him wary about investing time and money into a project like MingleWing, which is so specifically at risk to new legislation? Ultimately, the answer is no. Innovation can’t be stopped, and if people want to use this type of platform, they will.

He does mention that venture capitalists are becoming cautious about this segment. He says he’s been told that SOPA/PIPA have made VCs nervous about investing in companies that have anything to do with user-generated content.  

Hopefully, MingleWing and like-minded sites won’t face the same fate as Veoh, and Internet innovation will remain unhampered. The Internet might be bursting at the seams, flooded with applications and integrations, but even the least of these deserves to be protected.  As Shapiro concisely puts it, “Anyone with any sense of what the Internet is knows SOPA makes no sense whatsoever.” 

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