Lawmakers who back legislation that would crack down on piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites pushed back Wednesday against critics who say that the measures could undermine the growth of new technologies and services on the Internet.
A group of artists held a competing news conference on Wednesday to voice their fears about collateral damage that the bills might cause. Supporters of the piracy legislation tried to allay their fears.
“What we’re dealing with is blatant illegal activity and theft,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., co-chairman of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus, said at a news conference. “No one is seeking to regulate legitimate activity.… It doesn’t matter if it’s stolen off the back of a truck or off the Internet, theft is theft.”
Schiff co-sponsored legislation introduced last week by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, that would provide law enforcement and copyright holders with new tools to target websites based offshore that offer pirated music, movies, and other content and counterfeit goods. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved its own version of the legislation in May.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., also argued that many critics fail to recognize the reality of how the legislation will be implemented. “It’s easy for people when they see language to assume the worst and presume that the rule of reason does not apply in enforcement,” said Whitehouse, who co-sponsored the Senate bill and is one of the two Senate co-chairmen of the bipartisan anti-piracy caucus.
A broad coalition of groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce strongly backs both the House and the Senate bills. It includes content groups representing the movie and music industries and publishers, as well as traditional companies offering a broad range of products that are counterfeited and sold on foreign-based websites. They argue that the growth in online piracy and counterfeiting abroad is costing the U.S. jobs and that the legislation will provide tools they now lack.
Schiff and Whitehouse spoke at a news conference to release an annual report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance that the lawmakers say demonstrates the importance of copyright-based industries to the U.S. economy and the need for the anti-piracy legislation to ensure their continued growth. The report found that industries that create, produce, and distribute films, music, television shows, software, books, and other content employ 5.1 million U.S. workers and accounted for $134 billion in foreign sales and exports in 2010.
But the legislation is generating growing concern from venture capitalists, technology firms, civil libertarians, and others who say that it may hurt the economy and innovation. These critics say that both bills are too broad and could target legitimate sites and technologies. They point to provisions in the measures that could require service providers to redirect U.S. Internet users away from websites determined to be engaged in piracy or counterfeiting.
During a separate briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Casey Rae-Hunter, a musician and deputy director of the Future of Music Coalition, voiced his concerns with the online-piracy legislation. He said he uses cyberlockers, a third-party file-sharing service, to store his music. Rae-Hunter worries that because pirates might store content using cyberlockers, the service could be shut down by the legislation.
“It’s a scorched-earth policy that doesn’t necessarily target what you want but causes a lot of collateral damage,” said Paul Schatzkin, a Nashville-based entrepreneur and the founder of the first online music store, songs.com, who also spoke at the briefing.
He and Rae-Hunter were part of a group of artists who were in Washington on Wednesday to lobby against the anti-piracy bills in both chambers.