Anti-piracy duel gets pointed in Washington
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Michael O'Leary, senior executive vice president for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Hollywood's chief lobbying arm, urged lawmakers to move swiftly to pass a bill that would make it easier to shut down rogue websites that traffic in pirated movies and TV shows.
Such websites pose a threat to the 95,000 small businesses across the country involved in the production and distribution of movies and television and cost the industry billions each year, O'Leary testified.
"To these men, women and their families, online content theft means declining incomes, reduced health and retirement benefits, and lost jobs," O'Leary said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "Criminals are not standing still, and if our efforts to protect American creativity are to succeed, the law cannot stand still either."
O'Leary remarks were quickly rebuffed by a coalition of leading technology companies, fiercely opposed to the bill. The Stop Online Piracy Act would allow prosecutors to seek court orders requiring U.S. Internet sites and search engines to take steps to block access to websites distributing pirated material. But Google and other companies fear the provisions would unfairly restrict legitimate websites and promote censorship on the Internet.
"This legislation would erase the fundamental legal underpinning on which the Internet and innovation depend,'' Markham Erickson, executive director of the NetCoalition said in a statement. The trade group represents eBay, Google, Yahoo and other heavy weights in the tech industry. "It would hurl the digital world into vast legal uncertainty that would result in mainstream U.S. websites being shut down with little or no notice, and where new products and services — as well as existing ones — could be sued out of existence."
This week, Google, Yahoo and other tech giants sent to a letter to congressional leaders, saying, "We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation as well as our nation's cybersecurity,'' the companies wrote.
While the House Judiciary Committee could vote on the bill next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved a similar version of the legislation called the Protect IP Act, although it's uncertain when that will be voted on by the full Senate.
[Update: In a speech to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, MPAA Chief Executive Chris Dodd took a hard line against critics of anti-piracy legislation. "Some in the tech community believe that even if their website is being used to house stolen copyrighted content, that's not their problem. Would they give the same answer if their sites were being used to distribute child pornography or computer viruses for personal financial information? Of course not!'' Dodd said. "The time has come to take a rough stand against the rogue sites and the parasites who profit from the outright theft of our content."
— Richard Verrier
Photo: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), left, and Odin (Anthony Hopkins) in the movie "Thor," from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment. The film is among the most heavily pirated films in 2011. Credit: Zade Rosenthal / Marvel Studios.