House Online Piracy Bill Faces Uproar From Internet Community

Lobbying against proposal got a head start

The House version of the Protect IP bill, legislation aimed at shutting down rogue websites, got a big reception on the Hill in advance of its introduction late Wednesday. But it may not be the kind of reception that Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex. and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wants.

Opponents of the House bill, including NetCoalition, CCIA, and the Consumer Electronics Association, have been revving up the lobbying all week, following a meeting held last Friday with the committee about the bill's language. Press statements have been flowing since then. CEA has organized a group of 15 venture capitalists specializing in the Internet business to argue that Protect IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property) would "undermine" the Web economy.

The Stop Online Piracy Act allows the U.S. attorney general to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell copyrighted goods and services, and increases criminal penalties for selling counterfeit medicine and military goods over the Internet. 

"American IP industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs to the U.S. economy and account for more than 60 percent of U.S. exports. It’s time to stop online piracy and start protecting American jobs and innovations,” said Smith in a statement.

Though the bill has bipartisan support from Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking member of the committee, IP subcommittee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and may please Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the Internet community is frothing.

Expectations that the bill would address many of the concerns the Internet community had about the Senate version were dashed by the House version, which is broader than the Senate's Protect IP in its targeting, giving the Justice Department power to censor any site deemed to be illegally hosting copyright material. The private right of action which opponents were concerned about in Protect IP was softened—but only slightly—in the House version, requiring copyright holders to provide notice to ad networks and payment processors first.

"This bill will regulate the Internet. . . . The Internet technology industry . . . will be thrown into a morass of legal and regulatory uncertainty which will compromise this vital sector of economy growth," said Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, said that the bill would "target people for posting music in the background of videos, dancing to pop songs, or playing in cover bands. This is an omnibus grab bag of corporate goodies that will hurt consumers, stifle innovation, foment censorship, and change the Intenet as we know it for the worse."

Erickson said opposition to the two bills does not mean the Internet community is opposed to some sort of legislation to go after digital pirates. "The way off-shore sites stay in business is through advertising or credit cards. We would support the Department of Justice going to court, getting a court order so that the ad network or payment processor would cease serving that site," he said. The Senate bill goes beyond that.

Though the debate has been heated and loud, chances are neither bill will go anywhere in this Congress. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has put a hold on the Senate bill, and the House bill differs enough from the Senate proposal that there may not be time to resolve the two.