'Accomodation' effort on language under way, says O'Leary

As tech companies and digital rights groups gain traction in their opposition to a major piece of anti-piracy legislation, Hollywood’s studio lobby is talking to congressional staffers about modifying language in the bill, hopeful to win over some of the most influential critics.

“I think we will come forward with language that will accomodate specific concerns,” Michael O’Leary, the MPAA’s senior exec VP for global policy and external affairs, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. He declined to go into specifics, but said, “You will see accomodation, you will see movement.”

He cautioned, however, that the changes would be unlikely to appease all of the opponents.

“Quite honestly, there are people in the the opposition who have no intention of agreeing to anything,” he said.

The legislation, pending in the House and the Senate, is aimed at rooting out so-called rogue websites, particularly those overseas, with a series of measures in which the Justice Department could seek a court order to force payment processors, ad networks, search engines and Internet providers to cut off support to such sites.

Although the bills have drawn broad support among Hollywood studios, record labels and unions — all anxious to cast the legislation as a jobs issue — that message has been obscured in recent weeks as some tech firms and digital-rights groups have warned in advertisements and op-ed pieces that the legislation would stifle innovation and jeopardize the free flow of the Internet.

Rep. Darrell Issa (D-Calif.) has been among the most vocal opponents, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has expressed reservations, though she softened her opposition with a statement calling on sides to come together to find an effective compromise.

Although the legislation has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate and bipartisan support on the House Judiciary Committee, O’Leary suggested that the tactic of some opponents was to gin up controversy with “hyperbolic” statements and stall the movement of the legislation.

It now looks highly unlikely that it will reach President Obama’s desk by the end of the year, which had been a goal of industry supporters. And Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has threatened a filibuster in the Senate.

Google and the NetCoalition, an organization of Internet firms, have called for the legislation to be more narrowly tailored to cutting off the money that goes to rogue sites. But O’Leary said that while Google “is more than happy to go after the money of payment processors and ad networks, they don’t include the money they make off of search and other aspects of their business as well.”

The legislation, he said, has to “go after the money throughout the entire ecosystem.”

With a Congress defined by gridlock, the safe bet would seem to be on the prospect of nothing passing, but O’Leary said the MPAA still believes the legislation will pass and be signed into law.

“There are a lot of hurdles to be overcome, and I believe they will be overcome.”

Supporters, nonetheless, expressed frustration over how the debate has been framed so far.

“The sense that there is a fight between innovation and people with their fingers in the dyke is completely false,” said Kathy Garmezy, the DGA’s associate exec director for government and international affairs.

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