22 November 2011

If I studied all my life, I couldn’t think up half the number of funny things passed in one session of congress.

Will Rogers

Below is my first ever letter to congress. A few days ago, I called my congressperson through Tumblr in order to help protect the internet from some seriously insidious legislation that is being pushed through congress. You can learn more about this legislation by watching the video below. As an example of how this legislation affects me; if a single user of Memoir Place were to upload a copyrighted photo to be used in his memoir, the entire site could be shut down and I could be sent to jail. If this legislation passes, most of your favorite internet sites, including facebook, twitter, tumblr and reddit, could be shut down at the whim of the entertainment industry.

After calling and stating my opinion, I got a non-committal email back from Jan Shakowsky, my congressperson, saying “I believe strong protections are needed to ensure that the intellectual property rights of artists are protected from pirating activity.  I also believe that any law with the goal of protecting intellectual property should not do so by sacrificing reasonable internet access and security, free speech, or innovation.”  She did not pledge to vote for or against. So, I replied to her email with the letter below.

Dear Congressperson Shakowsky,

Thank you very much for your email. Although I would much rather have you say that you are dedicated to ensuring this bill does not pass, I am glad at least that you agree social media sites should not be shut down for a single act of infringement by a user, as is currently in this bill.

I think that there are a number of factors affecting this bill that have not been given proper consideration.

Firstly, it is important to note that the entertainment industry already has many tools at their disposal in order to take down infringing content from websites and prevent piracy. These tools are being heavily used, and abused (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/11/warner-admits-it-issues-takedowns-for-files-it-hasnt-looked-at.ars</wbr></wbr></wbr></wbr>).

This bill will not stop piracy in the least bit. Anyone interested in pirating content, would simply have to put in the IP address of the infringing site into an internet browser, instead of its domain name.

The entertainment industry looks at every single act of piracy as a lost sale, which is completely preposterous. A 12 year old kid who downloaded 10,000 songs was clearly never going to buy (or be able to afford) to buy all that music. If he didn’t pirate the songs, he would just listen to them for free on youtube.

The punishment for copyright infringement is completely out of proportion to the crime. The current copyright law was meant to stop huge corporations from infringing on each others copyrights, and is being used for a purpose it was not intended. You don’t seriously believe that if a kid is caught with 10,000 songs that he should be liable $150,000 per song for a total of $1.5 billion? The punishment should fit the crime, and a $1.5 billion dollar penalty for an otherwise good kid who downloads music is crazy. The idea that, the same music that can be listened to for free anytime on youtube, is suddenly deserving of a $1.5 billion dollar penalty after someone downloads it is crazy.

The movie industry box office has suffered minimal damage due to online piracy. Box office revenues are higher than ever.

The music industry is having business model problems, and blaming those problems on piracy.

As an executive myself, I completely understand why management in the music industry are blaming their problems on piracy. If they were to go their shareholders and say that the business model is broken and as a result they have lost billions of dollars, they would all be fired. Instead they go to the shareholders and say that the evil pirates are the cause of their problems, and that they are doing whatever they can to fight the evil pirates.

The music industry used to make a ton of money selling albums, because in order to get the one song you really wanted, you needed to buy a whole album. Then in the 1990’s, the CD came around, and people spent huge amounts of money replacing their entire music collection with CD’s. Now, the business model of the industry has suffered a dual blow. People are no longer spending huge amounts of money converting their music collection to CD’s, and also people are not buying whole albums, they are buying single songs. Now, if someone loves a particular song, they can get it for $0.99 as opposed to spending $17 on an album. Also, they can legally listen to the music for free anytime day or night on youtube. This is why the music industry is suffering, not because of piracy.

The repercussions of this bill could be quite severe, and it does not provide tangible benefits. It puts the safety and security of the internet in jeopardy and should most definitely not be passed. The current law on the books, with hundred thousand dollar penalties per downloaded song, is completely out of proportion to the crime of copyright infringement. And putting the integrity of the internet at risk so that music piracy might be a bit more difficult is not a good decision for our country.

Please do not allow this bill to be passed.

Regards,

Solomon Kahn

p.s. I am the CEO of a recently launched internet company in your district. There are many issues regarding intellectual property that are not well understood outside the technology industry, but are causing major problems. An example would be business method patents and patent trolls. Since the technology startup industry has done more than any other industry to create jobs and wealth in America, issues affecting the industry are incredibly important for the country. If you are interested in an insider’s view of these issues, I would be happy to speak with you anytime.