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Rushe reports: "Hollywood executives spend $91m lobbying for approval of Stop Online Piracy Act, which tech industry says will stifle creativity."

Internet censorship, 06/15/09. (photo: The Inquistir)
Internet censorship, 06/15/09. (photo: The Inquistir)

Hollywood Executives Spend $91M Lobbying for SOPA Approval

By Dominic Rushe, Guardian UK

16 December 11


ollywood's most powerful executives and Silicon Valley's billionaires have been glued to the goings-on in a frills-free Washington committee room.

At the cost of thousands of dollars an hour, their army of lobbyists and lawyers spent much of Thursday watching a young woman reading – as fast as she could – a bill that has set the old and new media at each others' throats in a battle both sides claim is a fight to the death.

The reading and discussion of the amendments to the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) at the House Judiciary Committee looks set to continue Friday as committee members clashed over the impact of the bill.

In an opening statement, committee chairman Lamar Smith said: "Laws equip US authorities and rights holders to take action against criminals who operate within our borders. But there is no parallel authority that permits effective action against criminals who operate from abroad."

He argued that the amended bill would support US business while leaving the internet intact.

But fellow Republican and committee member Darrell Issa repeatedly clashed with Smith and other Sopa supporters. He said the bill "retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor", and threatened the integrity as well as the entrepreneurial culture of the internet.

The drawn-out and contentious hearing is set to resume Friday. The debate was delayed for sometime after committee member Steve King tweeted: "We are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and Shiela Jackson has so bored me that I'm killing time by surfing the internet."

Committee member Jackson demanded an apology, and a side debate ensued on King's first amendment right to tweet.

Both Hollywood and the tech community have spent millions as they battle over the future of the internet is regulated – but Hollywood appears to have the edge.

According to figures compiled by the Center For Responsive Politics, the film, music and TV industries have spent more than $91m so far this year lobbying for the approval of the bill. Disney, News Corp, the NFL, Time Warner, Sony and Viacom made a last-ditch effort to get the act through to the next stage this week.

"Every day, internet criminals use illegal foreign websites to steal from New York companies and hard-working Americans," they wrote in an open letter published in major media outlets. "These illegal foreign websites are destroying American jobs and causing billions in lost revenue."

Despite a concerted effort from the tech industry, the bill, with some amendments, could be finalised this week before going to the vote early next year. Another similar bill, the Protect IP Act, is currently with the Senate.

But the tech world has hit back hard. In a joint letter, Google's Sergey Brin, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Huffington Post's Arriana Huffington and others warned Sopa and Protect IP will stifle innovation, undermine security online and give the US government powers to censor the web "similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran."

The bill has been amended to address some of the tech world's concerns, according to the committee. Smith said the bill's critics were "spreading lies about the legislation in an attempt to stall efforts by Congress to combat foreign rogue websites.

"Companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites, so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue sites."

Lamar said America's intellectual property industries provide 19m high-paying jobs to the US economy and accounted for more than 60% of US exports.

"Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America's most profitable and productive industries are under attack," he said.

But critics charge that even the modified bill still threatens to stifle creativity in the tech community and threatens the very plumbing of the internet. Art Brodsky, communications director at Public Knowledge, a Washington-based public interest group, said: "If there is a theft problem then there are a lot of better ways to deal with it. The issue here is about the solution."

Sopa would allow the US government to restrict illegal file-sharing sites by blocking their Domain Name System (DNS), which provides a website with its online address. The technique is the same as the one used to block unwanted sites in China and has alarmed free speech advocates.

But it has also worried internet firms from a technical, as well as an ethical, point of view. DNS is a global system that allows the same address to be reached from any internet-enabled device. The proposals threaten to undermine the integrity of that system while failing to tackle pirates who are used to re-routing their websites to avoid the authorities, argue Sopa's critics.

"We have the facts on our side but they have the numbers. It's not at all certain what the outcome will be," said Brodsky.

Holmes Wilson, co-founder of Fight For The Future, a lobbying group, said the amendments he had seen so far were "superficial and ambiguous" and Sopa remained a grave threat to creativity and freedom online.

"The internet has such a boon to society, it has allowed so much change and given people the ability to challenge the establishment, he said.

"Sopa is establishment interest fighting back." your social media marketing partner
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