Brad Burnham: A lot of people have positioned this debate as just a battle between the tech industry and the content industry, and it’s an insiders’ game - it’s a bunch of rich guys playing around with each other. I don’t think that’s the case. I think what we’re talking about is the freedom to innovate. That’s a very profound and important thing.
First of all, all of the services that consumers across the web have come to know and love, you know there are 800 million people using Facebook. The future of those services is at risk, and so you’re use of the internet is threatened by this legislation. If the legislation passes it will mean that you will pay more for a lot of the things that you’ve come to appreciate that have been much less expensive.
Beyond that, there is innovation and there is the pace of innovation is slowing down. The next Facebook, the next novel service that consumers would get really excited about is not going to happen. Today one of the reasons the internet has produced such wonderful innovation is that it has been very inexpensive to start a company. Foursquare got up to 100,000 users on $25,000. That’s unheard of in an era before the open source software that everybody uses to build on top of and the distribution platform called the internet, which the end users pay for. We all buy our access to the internet ourselves and so no supplier of content has to buy the access the way they used to in the cable world. By lowering the cost of creating new services we have dramatically increased the amount of innovation.
The problem is, Foursquare was essentially started with three people and they were able to get to 100,000 users with five or six people. Now we’re going to have three people and a lawyer involved in all these startups because, as an investor, we’re going to be looking at these, and the first due diligence question you’re going to ask is "Are you clean? Is there any risk associated with, liability? Could one of these people come after you? Could the Attorney General come after you? What are you doing that might infringe?" And the definitions in this legislation are so vague that no matter how hard they try, they’re not going to be able to give crisp answers to that. So it creates a huge amount of uncertainty, which will chill investment, which will chill innovation.
The real irony here is, if you had to pick the content industry’s least favorite company it would probably be Google. What's happening here is that Google has about 200 lawyers on staff today. It’s not going to affect them at all. They’ll fight these guys. They have the money. They have the lawyers. They’ll just create a team and go fight these guys. But if you take a little search engine startup like DuckDuckGo, which hopes to compete with Google, which is innovating in novel ways and creating a new experience for consumers, they have three people. If the fourth one has to be a lawyer. they’re never going to get there.
And the last thing is to come back to this notion of the freedom to innovate and why is that so important? We have a bunch of really difficult problems that we’re facing over the next few years, and politicians sometimes say, “Why are you spending time on this issue? It’s an arcane insider issue.” But if you think about the problems that we’re trying to solve, the internet isn’t the problem. The internet is the solution. So just think about the fact that no matter what we’re going to go through a period of dislocation as the economy evolves into this more modern—on this more modern platform, and people who are in their 40s are going to have to rethink how they’re making a living. They’re probably going to have to be more dependent on themselves. They are going to have to find ways of retraining themselves. The way to do that is to use the internet to make it possible. If the idea of retraining workers is done as part of a government service through a government institution in the old industrial hierarchical bureaucratic model of delivering those services, it’s going to be phenomenally expensive. What we’re seeing on the internet is really nifty education startups where peers are teaching peers how to do things. The cost of that is a tiny fraction of the cost of the old industrial model of producing these services.
So we need this medium to get us through these really intractable problems. So it’s not just a little inside baseball argument between two rich kids. It is a threat to the foundation of the internet, which in turn is a threat to the innovation that we need to dig ourselves out of these really difficult problems.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd