MPAA chairman Chris Dodd challenges the notion that Hollywood and Silicon Valley are pitted against each other, noting in speeches that “we can only succeed if we succeed together.” Far from being unwilling to embrace the freedom of the Internet, he notes that when he was in the Senate, he supported net neutrality.
But when the topic comes to Google’s opposition to a major piece of anti-piracy legislation working its way through Congress, his tone turns from conciliatory to critical.
“How do you justify a search engine providing for someone to go and steal something?” he asked rhetorically in a recent interview at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers conference. “A guy that drives the getaway car didn’t rob the bank necessarily, but they got you to the bank and they got you out of it, so they are accessories in my view.”
Such talk is likely to intensify as Google, digital rights groups and others accelerate their efforts to stop the Senate PROTECT IP Act and its companion in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act. The long-in-the-works legislation seeks to curb so-called rogue websites that traffic in unlicensed goods, including not just movies, TV shows and music, but counterfeit pharmaceuticals and even military parts.
Essentially the legislation aims to create a firewall between such foreign sites and U.S. users by blocking domain names, cutting off links and stemming the money flow that comes from ad services and payment processors.
Google, Facebook, Yahoo and other Internet companies fear that it will impose new obligations on them to police the Internet, given provisions that allow the government to seek a court order to force them to take action.
Google executives say that they are well aware of the problems of piracy — and insist they are getting better at responding to takedown notices — but they would like to see the legislation limited to cutting off sites’ money supply.
Opponents also see the legislation as so broadly written that it will have unintended consequences. In an interview with Google, Vint Cerf, recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet and Google’s chief Internet evangelist, warned of “likely harm” to the Internet itself from the effort. The worry is that by trying to create a wall between foreign rogue sites and users in the U.S., efforts to block domain names will interfere with the Internet’s core architecture.
But Dodd calls such alarms “exaggerated hyperbole.”
Dodd, who assumed his post in March, notes that the idea of blocking sites is by no means unprecedented. Other supporters of the legislation note Internet providers already block criminal content like child pornography. Citing a more controversial practice, Dodd notes “When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn’t do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites.”
He suggests that companies opposing the legislation may view it differently if they were confronted with the rampant piracy facing Hollywood.
Google “recently bought Motorola, with 700 patents,” Dodd says. “If you can find patents on the Internet, maybe you ought to be able to steal it. Copyright is a limited right, patent is an unlimited right. But maybe people ought to have access to those patents. Maybe that ought to happen.”
Dodd, however, says that the current battle waging in Washington shouldn’t obscure the partnership between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
“The kind of relationship we have had with the technology community has benefited everybody,” he says. “I am kind of disappointed that [some opponents] are leading naive people along that this is a choice you have to make between technology and content. It is not a choice you have to make.”