Legislation tagged as too "broadly written"

The lobbying effort over a major piece of anti-piracy legislation has entered a new but not unexpected phase in Washington: As opponents sound alarms, supporters call it hyperbole.

What seems to have escalated the rhetoric is a lobbying effort being mounted by the Consumer Electronics Assn. against the bill, which was introduced in the House last week and cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in an unanimous vote in May.

Gary Shapiro, prexy of the CEA, wrote a Forbes column last week in which he said that the legislation is so “broadly written” that, “in theory, it would allow any copyright owner to shut down a legitimate retail website, such as Amazon or Best Buy, by alleging that one product being sold on the site could ‘enable or facilitate’ an infringement.” He added that it would stifle innovation, as it would bestow “power on old-guard media companies with a business interest in slowing the digital revolution.” The org brought 15 venture capitalists to Capitol Hill on Oct. 27 to urge lawmakers against the bill.

But on Tuesday, the MPAA posted a blog entry pointing out that such predictions that the legislation will “break the Internet” have been made before, only to not pan out, including after the Supreme Court’s 2005 MGM vs. Grokster decision, which held that those who market and distribute devices used for infringing activities could be held liable for inducing copyright theft. At the time, Shapiro predicted a flood of litigation and said, “Who knows how many innovative products and services face a premature death as a result of this ruling?”

“Neither of these bills do the horrible things that have been suggested,” said Michael O’Leary, the MPAA’s senior exec VP, global policy and external affairs. “The idea that the Internet will be broken, or that innovation will die are not constructive elements of the debate … This is not the first time that our critics have adopted this strategy. The good thing is that the things they say are always wrong and they will be wrong on this too.”

The Protect IP Act in the Senate and the similar Stop Online Piracy Act in the House target the tide of foreign websites that are devoted to the sale of infringing goods. JMuch of the focus has been on what the obligations will be of Internet providers, search engines, payment processors and ad networks will be to cut off support to sites that traffic in pirated material like movies, TV shows and music. For example, the House version of the bill requires Internet providers and search engines to to “reasonable measures” as “expeditiously as possible” to prevent users from accessing the “rogue” sites — like blocking access to the site’s IP address or disabling a hyperlink text. In the House version, “expeditiously as possible” is defined as taking action within 5 days of being served a copy of a court order.

Meanwhile, the MPAA and other orgs championed a report from the Intl. Intellectual Property Alliance showing that copyright industries made up 6.4% of the total GDP, and that they grew at an annual rate of 1.10% over the past three years, outpacing the rest of the economy.

Industry lobbyists also are awaiting Google’s written responses to questions, due on Friday, related to its copyright practices raised at the time of Eric Schmidt’s appearance before an antitrust subcommittee hearing in September. Google is a member of the NetCoalition that opposes the anti-piracy legislation.

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