[A2k] New York Times: In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old

thiru at keionline.org thiru at keionline.org
Thu Jan 19 04:29:30 PST 2012


January 18, 2012
In Fight Over Piracy Bills, New Economy Rises Against Old

WASHINGTON — When the powerful world of old media mobilized to win passage
of an online antipiracy bill, it marshaled the reliable giants of K Street
— the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Recording Industry
Association of America and, of course, the motion picture lobby, with its
new chairman, former Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat
and an insider’s insider.

Yet on Wednesday this formidable old guard was forced to make way for the
new as Web powerhouses backed by Internet activists rallied opposition to
the legislation through Internet blackouts and cascading criticism,
sending an unmistakable message to lawmakers grappling with new media
issues: Don’t mess with the Internet.

As a result, the legislative battle over two once-obscure bills to combat
the piracy of American movies, music, books and writing on the World Wide
Web may prove to be a turning point for the way business is done in
Washington. It represented a moment when the new economy rose up against
the old.

“I think it is an important moment in the Capitol,” said Representative
Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and an important opponent of the
legislation. “Too often, legislation is about competing business
interests. This is way beyond that. This is individual citizens rising

It appeared by Wednesday evening that Congress would follow Bank of
America, Netflix and Verizon as the latest institution to change course in
the face of a netizen revolt.

Legislation that just weeks ago had overwhelming bipartisan support and
had provoked little scrutiny generated a grass-roots coalition on the left
and the right. Wikipedia made its English-language content unavailable,
replaced with a warning: “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering
legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet.”
Visitors to Reddit found the site offline in protest. Google’s home page
was scarred by a black swatch that covered the search engine’s label.

Phone calls and e-mail messages poured in to Congressional offices against
the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect I.P. Act in the
Senate. One by one, prominent backers of the bills dropped off.

First, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising Republican star, took to
Facebook, one of the vehicles for promoting opposition, to renounce a bill
he had co-sponsored. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who leads the G.O.P.’s
Senate campaign efforts, used Facebook to urge his colleagues to slow the
bill down. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina and a Tea
Party favorite, announced his opposition on Twitter, which was already
boiling over with anti-#SOPA and #PIPA fever.

Then trickle turned to flood — adding Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and
Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Representatives Lee Terry of Nebraska and Ben
Quayle of Arizona. At least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House
members announced their opposition.

“Thanks for all the calls, e-mails, and tweets. I will be opposing #SOPA
and #PIPA,” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, wrote in a Twitter
message. Late Wednesday, Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior
Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, withdrew his support for a
bill he helped write.

The existing bill “needs more due diligence, analysis and substantial
changes,” he said in a statement.

Few lawmakers even now question the need to combat pirates at Web sites in
China, Russia and elsewhere who have offered free American movies,
television shows, music and books almost as soon as they are released.
Heavyweights like the Walt Disney Company secured the support of senators
and representatives before the Web companies were even aware the
legislation existed.

“A lot of people are pitching this as Hollywood versus Google. It’s so
much more than that,” said Maura Corbett, spokeswoman for NetCoalition,
which represents Google, Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay and other Web companies.
“I would love to say we’re so fabulous, we’re just that good, but we’re
not. The Internet responded the way only the Internet could.”

For the more traditional media industry, the moment was menacing.
Supporters of the legislation accused the Web companies of willfully lying
about the legislation’s flaws, stirring fear to protect ill-gotten profits
from illegal Web sites.

Mr. Dodd said Internet companies might well change Washington, but not
necessarily for the better with their ability to spread their message
globally, without regulation or fact-checking.

“It’s a new day,” he added. “Brace yourselves.”

Citing two longtime liberal champions of the First Amendment, Senator
Patrick Leahy and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Mr. Dodd
fumed, “No one can seriously believe Pat Leahy and John Conyers can be
backing legislation to block free speech or break the Internet.”

For at least four years, Hollywood studios, recording industry and major
publishing houses have pressed Congress to act against offshore Web sites
that have been giving away U.S. movies, music and books as fast as the
artists can make them. Few lawmakers would deny the threat posed by piracy
to industries that have long been powerful symbols of American culture and
have become engines of the export economy. The Motion Picture Association
of America says its industry brings back more export income than
aerospace, automobiles or agriculture, and that piracy costs the country
as many as 100,000 jobs.

The House response, SOPA, was drafted by a conservative Republican,
Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, with the backing of 30 co-sponsors,
from Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of
the Democratic National Committee, to mainline Republican Peter King of
New York. The Senate’s version, written by Mr. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat
who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, attracted 40
co-sponsors from across the political spectrum and cleared his committee

Then the Web rose up. Activists said the legislation would censor the Web,
force search engines to play policemen for a law they hate and cripple
innovation in one of the most vibrant sectors of the American economy.

Mr. Smith, the House Republican author, said opposition Web sites were
spreading “fear rather than fact.”

“When the opposition is based upon misinformation, I have confidence in
the facts and confidence that the facts will ultimately prevail,” Mr.
Smith said.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have political muscle of their own, with
in-house lobbying shops and trade associations just like traditional
media’s. Facebook has hired the former Clinton White House press secretary
Joe Lockhart. Google’s Washington operations are headed by Pablo Chavez, a
former counsel to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and a
veteran of the Senate Commerce Committee.

And for all the campaign contributions, Washington parties and high-priced
lobbyists the old economy could muster, nothing could compare to the
tentacles the new economy can reach into Americans’ everyday lives through
sites like Wikipedia. Aides to Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader,
say he will press forward with a vote Tuesday to open debate on the
Protect I.P. bill. Negotiators from both parties are scrambling for new
language that could assuage the concerns of the Internet community, but
expectations are that the bill will now fail to get the 60 votes to move
forward — a significant setback.

“The problem for the content industry is they just don’t know how to
mobilize people,” said John P. Feehery, a former House Republican
leadership aide who previously worked at the motion picture association.
“They have a small group of content makers, a few unions, whereas the
Internet world, the social media world especially, can reach people in
ways we never dreamed of before.”

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