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House’s Online Piracy Hearings: MPAA, Google Go to Their Corners

Stop Online Piracy Act would combat rogue websites that traffic in stolen and counterfeit material, from film and television to pharmaceuticals

The MPAA and Google were among those testifying Wednesday at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act.

The act is designed to combat rogue websites that traffic in stolen and counterfeit material, from film and television to pharmaceuticals.

While the film industry hailed the law, the search-firm giant expressed “grave concerns” about it.

Also read: Google, Facebook to Congress: Don't Expect Us to Police Piracy

Introduced by Lamar Smith (R-TX), the law would give the U.S. Attorney General new power to stop service providers, search engines, payment processors and advertising networks that aid and abet illegal online activity. It would also grant the Attorney General authority to request court approval to block access to rogue websites.

Michael O’Leary, senior vice president of global policy and external Affairs for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said the act would go a long way help to shut down “foreign rogue websites and illegal cyber lockers that traffic in stolen creative works.”

He pointed out that the motion picture and television industry provides more than 2 million American jobs in all 50 states. He said that on average, a major motion picture shooting on location contributes $225,000 every day to the local economy, and that the industry distributed $38.9 billion to small businesses in 2009.

All of that economic activity is endangered by online piracy. “Every day, over and over, that product is stolen, sometimes with nothing more than the click of a mouse,” said O’Leary in a prepared statement.

He dismissed critics’ concerns that the law could potentially trample First Amendment rights, suggesting that instead it protected those rights.

At the other end of the spectrum, Google — along with other internet giants such as Facebook and eBay — had previously voiced concern that the law would turn the companies into online police charged with “monitoring … websites and social media.”

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Google Policy Counsel Katherine Oyama also pointed to a “dangerous precedent” being set by ordering internet service providers and search engines to censor search results and “disappear” foreign websites — especially since “search engines have been pushing back against foreign governments” that have tried to limit what information is available via the net.

Oyama raised First Amendment concerns, as well. “The prospect of ISPs and search engines ‘disappearing’ entire sites when they have violated no U.S. law, but only ‘facilitated’ unlawful acts of third parties raises serious concerns,” she said.

Oyama said Google favored an approach that cut off the funding to rogue websites.

 “So long as there is money to be made,” she said, efforts to rid the web of rogue sites would prove fruitless. “Just like a hydra, every effort to behead one site will likely give rise to multiple new rogue sites.”

Others have suggested a “follow the money” approach that would  “starve” illegal websites by blocking their funding mechanisms — similar to what recently occurred to Wikileaks.

But Maria Pallente, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, pointed out that the “starvation” route would not stop illegal sites that provide content for free.

Speaking in support of the act, Pallente told the committee that, “It is my view that if Congress does not continue to provide serious responses to online piracy, the U.S. copyright system will ultimately fail.”

Also testifying Wednesday were Linda Kirkpatrick of MasterCard Worldwide, John Clark, Pfizer chief security officer, and Paul Almeida, of the AFL-CIO.

Said Kirkpatrick in the prepared statement: "MasterCard believes it is essential to ensure that any obligations imposed on payment systems are capable of being readily implemented through reasonable policies and procedures, and that payment systems be shielded from litigation and liability when acting in accordance with the bill’s requirements."

A number of public interest organizations on Tuesday complained to the committee that the witness pool was so small, expressing concerns in a statement that there are "no representatives focused on how real-world implementation of the bill will affect the due process and free speech rights of law-abiding Internet users around the world, user security, and the ability of entrepreneurs to create new products and invent new industries."