The fierce debate over anti-piracy legislation currently rocking Capitol Hill is pitting Hollywood against Silicon Valley, and has left some wondering if the latest effort to crack down on illegal downloads will be shot down over free speech concerns.
In the wake of scathing series of attacks that have portrayed the new legislation in Orwellian terms, Michael O’Leary, who has played point man for the Motion Picture Assn. of America in the battle over the latest piracy bill, said that the act has been misrepresented as "draconian" by its opponents.
He lays the blame squarely at the feet of Google and other tech giants.
“What’s frustrating about Google is that they have never come forward with any kind of constructive alternative,” O’Leary, whose title at the MPAA reads senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs, said. “It’s been more delay and distraction, and it’s clear they want to preserve the status quo and obstruct this process.”
Entitled the Stop Online Piracy Act, the legislation is headed for a House Judicial Committee vote this week. The bill, in tandem with its Senate sister, the Protect IP Act, grants the Justice Department the authority to block offshore “rogue” websites that engage in the illicit sale of pirated products.
“This is important for one fundamental and simple reason — it’s about protecting the film and TV production industry and the thousands of jobs it creates across the country from the very real threat posed by foreign websites that park themselves overseas and steal our content,” O’Leary said.
In an open letter to Congress, the co-founders of such tech titans as Twitter, Yahoo, PayPal and Google say that act is too far reaching and gives the government the power to censor digital content “…using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran.”
Though the entertainment industry has been clashing publicly with internet companies in committee hearing rooms and on newspaper opinion pages, O’Leary stress that the show business community is not anti-technology.
“It’s absolutely false,” O’Leary said. “Look at the people who work on projects like ‘Avatar’ or ‘Benjamin Button.' Our industry is innovative every single day. It’s a misperception that this is a battle between content and technology. The truth is that these two communities should be working together to make each other stronger.”
That may be the case, but the fact remains that the tech companies are pushing for an alternate bill put forward last week by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that charges the International Trade Commission, and not the Justice Department, with policing online copyright violations.
The MPAA maintains, however, that the act does not go far enough.
Although Issa, for one, has warned that the legislation pushed by the MPAA will not pass Congress as it's currently written, O’Leary expressed optimism that the bill will become law.
“All this controversy is just an attempt to draw attention away from the bill and to turn it into a complex and lengthy bureaucratic process that will take 12 to 18 months, while thieves keep on stealing our products,” O’Leary said.
One charge, which O’Leary vehemently denies, is that the anti-piracy legislation imperils freedom of speech.
“This is an industry that owes its livelihood to the First Amendment,” O’Leary said. “This bill allows for due process and includes a neutral magistrate, so it is nothing akin to censorship. To paint us as advocating a Chinese-like system is just offensive.”