By Breaking The Belief In Trust And Sharing That Is The Internet
Venture capitalist Brad Burnham has a brilliant blog post that explains how SOPA really breaks the internet. It isn’t just the technical aspects of it. SOPA is an attack on the fundamental belief system that underlies the internet, and much of what makes it successful:
At a dinner earlier this week, Joi Ito, the head of the Media Lab at MIT described the Internet as a “belief system” and I suddenly understood. The Internet is not just a series of pipes. It’s core architecture embeds an assumption about human nature. The Internet is designed to empower individuals not control them. It assumes that the if individuals are empowered, they will do the right thing the vast majority of the time. Services like eBay, Craigslist, Etsy and AirBnB are built on the assumption that most people are honest. Other services like Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, WordPress, and Soundcloud assume people will be generous with their ideas, insights and creations. Wikipedia has proven that people will share their knowledge. Companies like Kickstarter show that people will even be generous with their money. This does not mean that there are not bad people out there. All of these companies spend a lot of time and money to battle spam and fraud. The companies are simply betting that there are many more good people than bad. The architecture of the Internet shares this assumption. It could have been designed to prevent bad behavior. Instead its design empowers good behavior.
The entertainment industry does not share this view of human nature.
That encapsulates the point wonderfully. And SOPA is really about suggesting that that “belief system” built on trust and sharing isn’t worth keeping around. I think this is a fundamental issue that people who understand the internet fully get: that it’s more than the “series of tubes” or the specific technology that holds it together. It’s built on a philosophy of openness and sharing. And that is a worldview that some businesses just don’t grasp.
Whether you agree with me that the vast majority of people are good or with my friend that given a chance many people will steal is not really important. What is important is that PIPA, and SOPA, the legislation the content industry is currently pushing through Congress, will not allow me to architect a service and build a relationship with consumers that reflects my core beliefs about human nature. If I am a search engine and I remove sites from my index, I am essentially lying to my users. If I am a social media site and I remove links my users have posted to sites that some authority has deemed illegal, I am breaking a promise.
I am sympathetic to the content industries struggles with piracy, but my belief system tells me the answer is to capitalize on the great strengths of the Internet to create a healthy and profitable relationship with their users not to sue them. No matter how strongly I believe that, however, I do not think I have the right to tell them how to run their business. Apparently, they do not feel the same way about our businesses. The current legislation in Congress does not just create an administrative burden, it requires service providers who have built wonderful businesses on a deep conviction about human nature to change their relationship with their users in a way that subverts their core values.
It really is this that’s the issue at hand. The “breaking” is of this recognition of the wonderful aspects built on the fact that people really are, for the most part, good. And when you treat them as being good — rather than treating them as criminals — you get rewarded for it. Are there some people who take advantage? Sure. But should we break the whole system just to stop those few people, when it will hinder all the wonderful things built on trust? That, unfortunately, appears to be the position the pro-SOPA folks are taking.
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