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Can Sen. Wyden Change the Piracy Debate?

Why he's not giving up the fight against current anti-piracy legislation

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

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Protect IP and SOPA, two bills currently under consideration in Congress that would stop foreign websites from stealing copyright works or selling counterfeit goods, have become lightning rods for criticism. Tech companies, bloggers, activists, and more have spoken up against the bills, calling them threats to the Internet; hundreds of thousands have signed a petition against the proposals. But there may not be anyone more passionate on the subject than Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. For two years, he’s put a hold on legislation like this to keep it from coming to the Senate floor. This year, he’s threatening a filibuster. And now he’s joined with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce an alternative, the OPEN Act. Adweek spoke with Wyden last week about his objections to the current legislation and his bill.

Adweek: What are your major objections to Protect IP and SOPA?
Wyden: [They’re] using a bunker-busting bomb when [they] should use a laser beam. There is no question we should deal with copyright infringement or sites that sell fake goods. You ought to handcuff them. It’s wrong. But these bills do a lot more than that. They would do an extraordinary amount of damage to the architecture of the Internet.

What do you say to people who charge you’re against protecting copyright?
My late father was an author. I lived the content business. I’m very interested in boosting the effort to deal with copyright infringement, just not at the expense of the Internet.

What’s at stake?
The American advantage is innovation, and innovation and technology are two sides of the same coin. That’s continued to this day. McKinsey found that 20 percent of job growth is due to technology. So why in the world would one do this much damage to the jobs-producing sector of our economy?

This debate has been going on for years. Has the content community been wrong?
The content sector spends millions of dollars every year on political campaigns and lobbying. They have always pretty much had their way around Washington, and that’s fine for those that can get away with it. But so much of what they have done has been anti-innovation. Only a few years ago the Motion Picture Association of America called the VCR the Boston Strangler. The VCR has been a huge boon for the movie industry. They have all that political heft and clout, and yet they are defending outdated business models.

Don’t Google, Facebook, and YouTube also have political heft and clout?
This is about the future Googles and the future Facebooks. It’s about the new guys getting started. They can’t hire a bunch of lawyers. YouTube, Google, and Facebook can stick up for themselves. This is about what kinds of innovations we will lose in America.