The Chamber of Commerce, which is leading a broad coalition pushing for legislation that would crack down on piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites, pledged Thursday to work with critics of such measures who argue that they will stifle free speech, innovation and could harm the Internet.
The chamber's Global Intellectual Property Center has helped lead a coalition of content creators and trademark owners in support of the House's Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP bill in the Senate. The bills would give the attorney general authority to seek a court order to require online advertisers and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites that provide pirated music, movies and other content or counterfeit goods. In addition, the legislation also allows a court to order search engines to stop showing results for such websites and to require service providers to block U.S. access to such sites.
The measures, however, have sparked fierce opposition from Internet firms including Google, Facebook and Twitter, as well as privacy advocates, Internet users and others.
"We knew this would be a difficult issue. We believe that there are serious objections and legitimate ones that have been raised by some of our friends in the Internet business and we're working very, very hard to get those resolved," chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said at a news conference following his annual State of American Business speech. But he added that, "There is a fundamental reality here that if the things we're talking about were going on in a store down the street the police would go in and arrest them. It's not only the question of selling illegal goods. It's the question of selling fundamentally dangerous goods."
Donohue also was asked whether he is concerned that the chamber's aggressive lobbying efforts in support of SOPA and Protect IP may be alienating some of the group's members such as Google and the Consumer Electronics Association, which oppose both bills.
"I think that's a bunch of bunk," he said. "I talk to the Google people all the time. They've got 15 things they're worried about around here. A lot of this is being run by the Washington guys that are trying to make a name for themselves. We've got to work this together. We will."
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Protect IP Act in May but it's been blocked from moving to the floor by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The Senate has scheduled a Jan. 24th cloture vote on whether to begin debate on the bill. Meanwhile in the House, the Judiciary Committee began marking up SOPA last month but postponed final action after a day and a half of debate. The committee is expected to resume work on the bill sometime after the House returns next week from its holiday break. Critics have pledged to continue trying to fix what they see as major flaws with the bill. They offered more than two dozen amendments during last month's markup.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of the bill's leading critics, plans to hold a hearing in his panel next week on how SOPA could impact innovation as well as the integrity and security of the Internet's domain name system. He said Wednesday he will be looking for input on possible fixes from the technical experts testifying at the hearing and may hold additional hearings in his committee on the issue.