As several prominent Internet companies held online protests Wednesday afternoon against anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress, smaller San Francisco and Silicon Valley-based companies demonstrated in San Francisco.
The protest began at noon in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza. As of about 12:30 p.m., about 200 people had gathered.
"We just wanted to show that it's not just huge corporations doing this; there's hundreds of tiny little startups that are going to be affected by this," said organizer Jonathan Nelson, founder of the startup coordinating organization Hackers and Founders.
San Francisco-based websites Reddit and Wikipedia have shut down their websites for the day and have posted a message against two bills being considered by Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA.
In addition, Mountain View-based Google has blacked out its logo and linked users to information about the two bills, while San Francisco-based Craigslist displays a page of information about the legislation before allowing users to access the website.
"As a person with copyrighted works, I remain concerned about the protection of creative works," Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) said in a written statement. "Despite this, I strongly oppose SOPA as it stands. I have heard from many of the people I represent who are worried about their right to free speech on the internet and I agree with their concerns."
But organizers of today's protest said some of the companies that would be most affected by the legislation are the Bay Area's small startups, companies that they said might build the next Google or Facebook.
Myles Weissleder, founder of SFNewTech, said the proposed legislation could cost the area jobs, as it could increase the barriers to entry for startup companies.
"It's not really a harbinger for a good economy, especially here locally, because we build the Internet here. It's just going to make life harder for a lot of people and it's just not healthy," Weissleder said.
Nelson said one example of the type of startup that could be affected would be one dedicated to sharing videos through email. Since the song Happy Birthday is copyrighted, he said, a video of a birthday party could be considered illegal to share with others under the legislation.
"That kind of thing could bring your startup down. The people building on top of Google, people building on top of Facebook, all of these startups could be at risk," Nelson said. "It's apparent to me that people who understand the technology deeply would never support this."
In his statement, McNerney said the country's economic power is based on innovation and the free flow of ideas. SOPA, he said, threatens free speech and is fundamentally flawed.
"The thinkers and creators in our country have always showed remarkable ingenuity, and stopping the stream of information on the internet would put the United States at an international disadvantage," he continued.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement about the bills this morning calling on the House and Senate to "consider all the issues at stake more carefully" and seek more input from those in the fields affected.
"Innovative technology and new media companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the nation are creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs and driving our economic recovery," Lee said.
"While protecting intellectual property against piracy is extremely important, we must not take steps that stifle the free exchange of information on the internet or harm critical engines for jobs and economic growth," the mayor said.
Among those scheduled to speak at today's protest are Ron Conway, a top angel investor in Silicon Valley for the last 20 years; Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive; and Gideon Lett, a vice-president for Technet.org.