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At CES 2012, proposed anti-piracy legislation is a hot topic

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LAS VEGAS — A contentious battle over Internet anti-piracy legislation shifted from Washington to the Consumer Electronics Show, where lawmakers and companies on both sides of the issue sought to gain allies.

Two bills circulating in Congress would help Hollywood titans, record labels and pharmaceutical firms enforce copyright infringement laws online. But proposals have drawn the ire of some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names who worry that the bills give law enforcement too much power to shut down their sites. The Senate version of the bill is expected to head to the floor for a vote later this month.

Social news site Reddit said it would blackout its service next week in protest of the legislation. The Consumer Electronics Association, the trade group the organizes CES, has been a staunch critic of the bills, too, with Chief Executive Gary Shapiro making it his policy rallying cry to conference-goers.

“The overwhelming tone of Washington remains hostile to innovation, entrepreneurship and business,” Shapiro said in a statement. His group has been handing out black buttons that lead people to protectinnovation.com, a Web site set up to oppose the bills.

As debate over the anti-piracy measures filled the hallways and panel discussions of the CES, some at the conference tried to focus on other policy matters. Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren said he is focusing on royalty fees for artists’ performing rights. “We have our hands full with that,” he said. Samsung Electronics executives said they are far more concerned about getting more government airwaves into the hands of the private sector.

As such, both sides in the anti-piracy debate raced to get neutral companies on their side.

At the trade show, NBC Universal and the Recording Industry Association of America worked the floors and meeting rooms to lobby partners to support the bills. They have also warned against a separate proposal by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would call on the International Trade Commission to enforce anti-piracy rules and that would soften the ability of law enforcement to punish offending sites.

Mitch Glazier, executive vice president of RIAA, said his industry has long had a difficult relationship with tech companies, dating back to when they came up with the VCR, DVD burner and other “copying devices.” He stood outside a press conference behind held by Wyden and Issa, to recruit people to his side.

Wyden and Issa also met with company executives, such as Intel, seeking support.

“The biggest difference between our bill and the others is that we don’t want to break the Internet,” Wyden said.

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