Sec. of state finds 'no contradiction' in IP protection, free speech goals

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, responding to predictions that anti-piracy legislation would give foreign regimes reason to censor the web, said that there “is no contradiction between intellectual property rights protection and enforcement and ensuring freedom of expression on the Internet.”

She made the remarks in a letter to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a chief supporter of a House bill aimed at rooting out so-called “rogue websites,” including those overseas, that traffic in pirated movies, TV shows, music and an array of other goods. Berman had asked her to respond to assertions made by opponents of the legislation, who say that it would send the wrong message to foreign governments because it relies on domain name filtering, underming U.S. support for online freedom of expression. The Center for Democracy and Technology opposes the legislation as written, and says the “international example it sets would encourage balkanization of the global Internet.”

Clinton gave a Jan. 21, 2010, speech on Internet freedom, but Berman said her words had been “mischaracterized” by opponents of the anti-piracy legislation pending in the House and the Senate.

“The Arab Spring shows the promise of the Internet as a medium by which peaceful demonstrators can mobilize citizens in the face of government oppression,” Clinton wrote in her Oct. 25 letter. “The Internet also offers tremendous opportunity for creators and inventors, but that promise will not be met unless the rules of copyright and trademark are protected and enforced.”

She did not directly cite the legislation — the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate — but wrote that “there will be many opportunities in the future for the State Department to reiterate publicly that Internet freedom and intellectual property protection are mutually consistent.”

Meanwhile, Politico reported on Friday that Google is considering dropping its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been aggressively lobbying for passage of the anti-piracy bills. Google execs have opposed the legislation, warning of its consequences on free speech as well as the obligation that it will impose on Internet companies to block sites. Another opponent of the legislation, Yahoo!, last month declined to renew its membership. Member companies of the Consumer Electronics Assn. also are pressing that organization to reconsider its membership in the Chamber, Politico said.

A spokeswoman for Google could not immediately be reached. A spokesman for CEA also had no comment, but said, “we have worked well with the Chamber on many issues, most recently successful passage of important free trade agreements” but added that they do “believe that the Chamber’s support of this IP legislation, and particularly the trial lawyer-friendly private right of action therein, does not comport with our members’ interests.”

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