Showbiz lobby touts report refuting critics' claims

Hollywood’s D.C. lobby is touting a report from a Washington policy group that refutes many of the claims made by critics of antipiracy legislation, including the charge that the Internet ecosystem will be broken by the bills’ measures to root out websites dedicated to infringing activities.

As the voices for and against the legislation get louder, the report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Daniel Castro says that “finding a reasonable solution to the problem on online piracy and counterfeiting is too important to let hysterical, ideological posturing and threats influence public policy.”

The complex legislation is aimed at so-called rogue websites that operate overseas, preventing law enforcement from shutting them down directly. It calls for shutting off support to such sites, with the Justice Dept. able to obtain court orders to require that Internet service providers and search engines take “technically feasible and reasonable measures” to cut off access and links, and that payment processors and ad networks curb the flow of money to the infringing sites.

The legislation calls on ISPs to block access to domain names via filtering, a process that critics claim will not only harm the architecture of the Internet but would be easily circumvented. But Castro found that claims that the legislation would “break the Internet” and lead to censorship were “unjustified.” He wrote that such filtering is already in use today, such as when a user erroneously types in a domain name and is redirected to a search engine suggesting possible alternatives. And although there would be ways to circumvent the blockage of sites, “it is unlikely to be employed by a significant number of users,” he wrote.

He also challenged another claim, that the legislation will induce other countries to restrict free speech if the U.S. is filtering out sites, as irrelevant. He noted that regardless of whether the legislation passes, “Other countries will continue to be free to block access to websites if they so choose (and most will continue to choose to do so).”

The legislation looked to be winning widespread support in Congress until Internet companies, public interest groups and other critics increased their effort to block its passage, with lawmakers such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) expressing opposition and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressing skepticism. A flurry of lobbying activity is under way in the lead-up to the expected Dec. 15 markup of the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), is sponsoring the legislation. Earlier this week, MoveOn sent emails to members calling on them to pressure Google, which is opposed to the legislation, to quit the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is lobbying for passage.

Castro did find validity in some detractors’ criticisms, including that the legislation is written so broadly as to potentially affect legitimate sites. He called for the legislation to be revised to make a clearer distinction between foreign and domestic sites and to clarify the definition of sites “dedicated to infringing activities.” He also suggested that controversial provisions that allow for copyright holders to take their own actions against payment processors and ad networks that support rogue sites should be replaced by voluntary agreements between Internet firms and content owners.

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