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Web Firms Win Anti-Piracy Victory

1/23/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — The content industry was facing an uphill
battle last week after losing major real estate to Web
companies opposed to Senate and House versions of anti-
piracy legislation.

In what is a very uncivil war between California’s North
(Silicon Valley) and South (Hollywood),
the Google-led opposition
to the PROTECT IP Act
(PIPA) in the Senate and Stop
Online Piracy Act (PIPA) in the
House was celebrating last week
as Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced
he had decided not
to hold a vote that would have
paved the way for considering
PIPA on the Senate floor.

SOPA SPONSOR PULLS BACK

And on the House side, Lamar
Smith (R-Tex.), sponsor of SOPA,
essentially struck the flag, saying
he had gotten the message.
“It is clear that we need to revisit
the approach on how best
to address the problem of foreign
thieves that steal and sell
American inventions and products,”
he said.

That came in the wake of a
Web-based protest that helped spur former bill sponsors
to back away from their support, and after language that
would have given movie and TV studios and other content
owners the ability to block or filter access to alleged
pirate websites, if armed with a court order, was deleted
from both bills.

While the Motion Picture Association of America and
U.S. Chamber of Commerce had backed that language,
Web companies had bitterly opposed it, characterizing
legislators who supported the bills as Internet killers.
From the content-owner side came charges that search
engines were simply trying to protect millions in profits
from advertising and search related to sites with pirated
content.

In the matter of a few weeks, content owners — whether
outflanked or simply the victims of powerful opponents
tapped into high-speed, broadband-generated advocacy
— went from two bills with bipartisan support to no clear
path to passage for either measure, as an election season
prepares to consume the attention of both Republicans
and Democrats. PIPA had already passed out of its Senate
committee with overwhelming support; SOPA was prepared
to follow suit in the House.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority leader, said
he would not bring SOPA to the floor until the issues with
the bill were resolved.

Typical of the turnabout in the Senate was Sen. Charles
Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee
where PIPA emerged and a co-sponsor of the bill.
“The current PROTECT IP Act needs more due diligence,
analysis, and substantial changes,” Grassley said. “As it
stands right now, I can’t support the bill moving forward
next week,” he said of the planned Jan. 24 Senate cloture
vote on limiting debate and proceeding to consideration.
He got his wish.

Although the chief sponsors of both bills had
signaled they were willing to remove language that
gave content owners the ability to block access to
alleged pirating sites if they could secure a court order,
that was not enough to assuage anti-piracy critics, who
argued that Congress needed to start over.

While Reid said he was confi dent that compromise legislation
was possible in the next few weeks, that might
have been wishful thinking.

The sides seem far apart, with content owners trying to
get more power to block sites and protection from liability
for potential collateral damage if they misfire or aim too
broadly, and Web companies fearing those companies will
overreach, and that bills targeted to foreign web sites will
spill over to U.S. sites.

The rhetorical divide is just as broad. According to
Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition
(Google, Yahoo!, Bloomberg), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
sponsor of PIPA and chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary
Committee, said in a public forum last week that he would
introduce a “ham sandwich” if he thought it would pass
and keep momentum going for his version of anti-piracy
legislation.

LEAHY HOLDS STEADY

For his part, Leahy said the Web protesters were “hiding
behind the black box of self-censorship.” Leahy
continued to argue that his bill clearly targets only
foreign Web sites with “no “real purpose other than to
infringe.”

“Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in
many other countries that do not respect American intellectual
property, criminals who do nothing but peddle
in counterfeit products and stolen American content are
smugly watching how the United States Senate decided
it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas
criminals from draining our economy,” Leahy said Friday,
after Reid’s decision.

He was not alone in that assessment. The U.S. Chamber
of Commerce, movie and TV studios and a host of TV and
film unions all back the bills and were not shy about making
their points last week.

The chamber warned legislators that it would be monitoring
how they voted on piracy legislation and could include
it in their annual report on key business-related
bills. The unions, including the Screen Actors Guild and
the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists,
wrote saying the bills would protect the jobs of their
180,000-plus members.

At press time, SOPA appeared dead. Meanwhile, PIPA —
if it survives — will be the subject of talk, rather than action,
for weeks to come.

September