Battle over Stop Online Piracy Act reaches fever pitch

November 16, 2011

The battle over controversial anti-piracy legislation reached fever pitch on Wednesday, as opponents of the House bill launched an advertising blitz ahead of a morning hearing.

Supporters meanwhile brought union leaders, Hollywood, retailers and the law enforcement officials to a hearing during the day to argue for lawmakers to pass the legislation.

Web giants Google, Facebook, eBay and AOL ran full-page advertisements in newspapers, including The Post, asking lawmakers to reconsider the legislation. Internet service providers, including Verizon, are also expressing concern with the bill.

The debate has intensified as opponents characterize the House bill as a sudden push by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex) that could dramatically affect Web giants and Internet service providers, who say they weren’t consulted in the drafting of legislation. Smith has said he hopes to move the House Stop Online Piracy Act to markup before the end of the year.

A similar Senate bill passed the Judiciary Committee in September.

The legislative push heartened supporters that include Hollywood studios, record labels, drug makers and retailers who have for years complained of fighting a losing battle against Internet trade of counterfeit goods and the illegal exchange of copyrighted material.

Fundamentally, this is about jobs,” said Michael O’Leary, a hearing witness representing the Motion Picture Association of America. He argued that not just actresses and directors are affected; piracy has a ripple effect across thousands of businesses that are associated with the movie business.

Critics of the House bill say it goes too far. They say a Senate bill authored by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) is more moderate. Ideally, they would want an amendment to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, that gives companies shelter from enforcement if they demonstrate best efforts to stop piracy.

A Verizon executive said in an interview Wednesday that language in Smith’s bill could force telecom companies to block Web sites that are dedicated to pirated copy.

“We worked with the Senate on the bill and that is reflected in the language of that bill,” the Verizon executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the company’s hopes to be included in revisions of Smith’s bill. “But the House bill, the way it is written, could mean we would have to take down domain names, use deep packet inspection technology and a range of technically difficult things to enforce this legislation.”

Smith said in a statement that current law doesn’t adequately help media and other firms that are seeing rampant stealing of their content.

He said his bill is aimed at foreign rogue sites and would only apply to sites that are “dedicated” to pirated copy.

“The problem of rogue Web sites is real, immediate and wide-spread.  It harms all sectors of the economy,” he said.

Cecilia Kang is a staff writer covering the business of media and entertainment.
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