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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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A Few Last Thoughts On SOPA/PIPA From Last Week

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After sleeping 13 hours on Friday night and then 14 hours last night it’s pretty clear that a week like last week isn’t sustainable for me. At brunch today, Amy guessed that I worked 80 hours between Monday and Friday, ran three days (after coming off a double long weekend where I did two 10 mile runs), travelled from Boston to NY and then NY to Boston late at night, and generally wore myself out.

I’m heading out for a 15 mile run in Boston and expect I’ll be garbage collecting all the random thoughts from the week. The backdrop in my world was dealing with SOPA/PIPA, which I’m glad is dead, for now. Based on all the rhetoric over the weekend, I have no doubt that it’ll be back soon as an issue and/or woven into some other bill that seems totally innocuous. Regardless, the experience around this over the last few months has impacted me pretty profoundly – both in my disdain for politics as usual, liars, and ass covering as well as my pride for grassroots leadership and the power of the Internet and the Web to get the word out and engage people.

I hope to spend zero minutes on this topic this upcoming week, although I put that in the fantasy category as I’m sure reality will interject itself. In the mean time, I encourage you to go take a look at a few more posts just to cement in your mind what is going on so you can be prepared for the next wave of it.

Joel Spolsky has two last things about SOPA/PIPA and then he will shut up. I hope he never does – he’s brilliant, articulate, and totally gets it. His two suggestions are to (1) use what we’ve learned to start lobbying for our own laws and (2) figure out a way to shift political ad dollars from TV to the web. It’s free to advertise on YouTube – let’s force it to be free to advertise on NBC, or at least so prohibitively expensive on a relative basis that it’s not worth it.

H.R. 1981 - Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011 – has embedded in it an amendment that’ll have your internet service provider tracking all of your financial dealings online. And yes, the sponsor of this is Lamar Smith, the same guy who sponsored SOPA. I wonder how many more bills there are out there like this – I certainly have no time or bandwidth to deal with them since I’m trying to help create the future.

Does Online Piracy Hurt The Economy? A Look At The Numbers. Here is some empirical evidence in Forbes that it doesn’t.

If Congress wants jobs, it can’t want SOPA. Talking point #1 for SOPA/PIPA morphed into “piracy costs jobs.” Over the course of last week, there were many people who were polite against being against piracy (for example, I am), but I don’t know of one who said “but piracy actually costs jobs and I can prove it.” I’ve concluded the piracy costs jobs thing is classic talking point rhetoric – if we hear it enough times then it must be true. Wouldn’t it be ironic if there was actually net job growth based on the dynamics of the current content economy?

If you were involved in opposing SOPA/PIPA recently, thank you for your efforts. These were horrible bills at some many levels and they needed to be shut down. The cynic in me knows that this is far from over but for now I’m going to go for a run and try not to think about it too much.

The Day The LOLcats Died

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Colorado Senator Mark Udall Opposes PIPA

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On Saturday, Colorado Senator Mark Udall publicly opposed PIPA. I’ve been talking to Mark and his team for about a month about this and I’m incredibly proud of him for taking a stand on this issue. I’ve been a supporter of Mark’s for many years and his willingness to listen to his constituents, think about and understand the specific issues, speak his mind, and take a leadership role continues to impress me.

This is not random opposition to bad proposed legislation. Mark and his team spent the time to understand what is really going on. Some specific points of opposition, from his blog post, follow:

“Three significant parts of PIPA particularly concern me: (1) the provision requiring Domain Name Service blocking (which could make it more difficult to implement cyber-security measures), (2) the censorship of Internet search results by the government, and (3) the fact that it encourages lawsuits by private parties – in addition to government enforcement. Coloradans and the high-tech community also have raised related concerns about an overbroad definition of affected websites (sweeping in legitimate companies as well as foreign rogue website operators), unfunded mandates, and legal risk and uncertainty – not only for lawful websites but for consumers. It’s no wonder that Coloradans are contacting my office in increasing numbers – voicing their objections to PIPA.”

To all of my friends in Colorado’s tech community I encourage you to express your support for Mark – both now (comment on this blog, send his office an email or a letter, write your own blog post, or give him a hug the next time you see him on the street) and in the future. While he and I don’t agree on everything, from my experience, Mark is listening, thinking, and taking action.

Mark, thank you taking a strong position on this horrible legislation.

Are You An Internet Entrepreneur In Colorado? Oppose PIPA!

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If you are a entrepreneur in Colorado who is working on something related to the Internet, please consider signing the following letter to Senator Udall and Senator Bennet opposing the Protect IP (PIPA) Act. I’ve written why I believe PIPA is effectively censorship and an incredibly dangerous and destructive bill to our economy, entrepreneurship, the Internet, and free speech.

After several discussions with various Congressional staff members, I’ve drafted the following letter to deliver to Senator Udall and Senator Bennet. I want to make sure they are hearing directly from entrepreneurs in Colorado, who I view as a much more important constituency of theirs than the folks in Hollywood who are trying to jam these bills through Congress. I’ve tried to make this letter substantive around the issues so the Senators understand the fundamental issues with the bills.

If you are a Colorado entrepreneur and want to be signed on to this letter, please either email me or put your name, company name, and title in the comments. The letter follows:

To: Senator Udall, Senator Bennet

As entrepreneurs in Colorado, we are writing because the Protect IP Act, now moving through the Senate (along with its House counterpart), poses a significant risk to the innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation that has characterized the Internet’s development.  We urge you to take a critical view of this legislation, calling for a greater effort to balance its focus on addressing piracy with its unintended consequence on technological development and innovation.  In short, we do not dispute that piracy on the Internet is a valid and important policy concern worth addressing; we do, however, object to the approach taken in this proposed legislation, which does not take seriously the interests of and impact on Internet companies.

Over the last twenty years, the Internet has enabled entrepreneurial upstarts to establish new companies, creating enormous amounts of wealth, jobs of the future here in the United States, and improving the lives of consumers and the productivity of businesses.  This success story rests on an architecture—both technical and legal—that has allowed for innovation without permission.   Most notably, sound regulatory and legal policy creates an environment where Internet companies can grow without the need to navigate difficult legal requirements, face entry barriers, or be at the mercy of larger companies’ business decisions.   Without such an environment, Google, Facebook, and other successful Internet companies would not exist, or would not have been founded here in the US.

In the area of intellectual property, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) constitutes a sound model of an Internet policy regime that allows for innovation and Internet-based entrepreneurship.  Under the DMCA, Internet companies are not required to architect their offerings in any particular manner to prevent possible copyright infringement; rather, they enjoy a “safe harbor” from secondary liability provided they comply with a “notice-and-takedown” provision that operates after-the-fact.  The DMCA also requires Internet companies to develop and enforce “repeat infringer” policies to address those individuals who do not respect copyright.
The Protect IP Act (PIPA) reflects the concern that the DMCA has allowed for significant amounts of piracy to take place on the Internet and that more can and should be done to prevent it.  But this concern alone cannot justify support for PIPA, as the proposed legislation takes four critical steps that, taken together, risk undermining the Internet’s architecture for innovation.

The most crucial and fateful flaw in the proposed legislation is its stance that not only the Department of Justice, but also private firms, should be able to sue Internet companies to invoke the remedies available in the bill.  In so doing, and in combination with its conclusion that certain remedies should be available on an ex parte basis—without the essential due process safeguards of offering the affected party notice and an opportunity to be heard–it subjects companies to the potential risk that they will be subject to extreme measures in error.

Three other aspects of the law bear notice and significant concern.  First, the bill imposes no accountability on private firms that invoke PIPA’s provisions in bad faith or even recklesslessly, despite evidence that firms have issued notice and take down requests in the DMCA in this manner (and despite the presence of such a provision in the DMCA).  Second, the bill sets out a standard that potentially subjects Internet providers to liability without clear, specific limits that can be readily be understood and followed ahead of time.  Third, the bill goes beyond the very sensible and effective remedy of preventing the use of credit card payments, ad networks, and other sources of funds to “rogue websites” and includes provisions that not only authorizes the seizure of domain names (which the DOJ can do under current law), but also the blocking of the Domain Name System address by ISPs.

The economic impact of the Internet and growth of Internet companies, here in Colorado and across the United States, is powerful success story that reflects the ingenuity, entrepreneurial spirit, and wise policy environment that the United States enjoys.  The innovators of tomorrow are ill-equipped to hire lobbyists and thus it is crucial that enlightened political leaders, like you both, take the time, effort, and care to engage with the technology community to ensure that an environment that supports innovation remain in place.  A sound regime for both protecting intellectual property rights and protecting companies against undue liability and legal traps for the unwary is part of that environment.

PIPA does not accomplish this and we strongly encourage you to take the concerns of the Colorado entrepreneurial community seriously, lest you overreach unnecessarily to protect intellectual property rights and undermine Internet-based innovation as a result.

American Censorship Day Is Tomorrow (11/16/11)

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There are two very disturbing bills making their way through Congress: Protect IP Act (PIPA - S.968) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA – H.R.3261). These bills are coated in rhetoric that I find disgusting since at their core they are online censorship bills. It’s incredible to me that Congress would take seriously anything that censors the Internet and the American public but in the last few weeks PIPA and SOPA have burst forth with incredibly momentum, largely being underwritten by large media companies and their lobbyists.

A number of organizations in support of free speech and a free and open Internet have recently come out in opposition to these bills. They include EFF, Free Software Foundation, Public Knowledge, Demand Progress, Fight For the Future, Participatory Politics Foundation, and Creative Commons who have organized American Censorship Day tomorrow (11/16/11).

If you run a website or have a blog, go to the American Censorship site to see how you can participate on 11/16/11.

In addition to being censorship bills, these are anti-entrepreneurship bills. They are a classic example of industry incumbents trying to use the law to stifle disruptive innovation, or at least innovation that they view as disruptive to their established business. To date, the Internet has been an incredible force for entrepreneurship and positive change throughout the world (did anyone notice what recently happened in Egypt?) It’s beyond comprehension why some people in Congress would want to slow this down in any way.

While you can try to understand the bills, this short video does a phenomenal job of summarizing their potential impact along with second order effects (intended or unintended).

PROTECT IP Act Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

I’m furious about this, as are many of my friends, including Fred Wilson who wrote today about how these bills undermine The Architecture of the Internet. But we are aware, as are many others, that simply being mad doesn’t solve anything. Join us and speak out loudly against censorship – right now! If you have a blog or website, please take part in American Censorship Day - the instructions are on their website which – so far – hasn’t been censored.

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