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Piracy pitting Google, Yahoo and others against film and movie industries

As the House votes on one of three pieces of anti-piracy legislation, an open letter to Congress from 83 Internet folks implores it not to 'create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation.'

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Streaming video is one of the largest catalysts pushing the growth of high-speed broadband networks. Some of those videos, however, and music too, have divided two industries that have been learning to scratch each other's backs (CP: Hulu: The complicated matter of the money-maker's next play).

This morning, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee is voting on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced, and amended, by Texas Republican Lamar Smith. The Act seeks to curb on the online piracy of film, television and music and is supported by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. Opposing it are Google, Ebay, Yahoo and 16 Internet companies in total, which fear that the Act would give the government the right to police and shutdown Internet sites, using tactics more often associated with the governments of China and Iran.

A similar Protect IP Act (PIPA), under consideration by the Senate, has the sides likewise divided. And on Thursday, a third piece of legislation was proposed, this one with the bipartisan support of Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and the new idea of putting the policing in the hands of the International Trade Commission, rather than the Justice Department.

Mr. Smith, as Bloomberg reported, has said that "companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue websites."

By contrast, Google's policy counsel, Katherine Oyama, has said that — in keeping with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 — Google has taken down links to pirated material "more than five million times," as well as kicked companies out of its advertising system once it was alerted to their illegal practices.

This morning, in an open letter to Congress, 83 Internet "inventors and engineers" explained their opposition to SOPA and PIPA. Their letter stated, in part:

If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure. Regardless of recent amendments to SOPA, both bills will risk fragmenting the Internet's global domain name system (DNS) and have other capricious technical consequences. In exchange for this, such legislation would engender censorship that will simultaneously be circumvented by deliberate infringers while hampering innocent parties' right and ability to communicate and express themselves online.

All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but these bills are particularly egregious in that regard because they cause entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under these proposals. In fact, it seems that this has already begun to happen under the nascent DHS/ICE seizures program.

All three bills, by many accounts, go about things in the wrong manner, and with too heavy a hand — though one can sympathize with the MPAA and RIAA grasping for some way to control all that stealing. Because, really, who hasn't downloaded an illegal track or clip?

For instance, just days after Google inaugurated its new French headquarters, with much pomp and circumstance and a visit from French President Nicholas Sarkozy — who applauded the dollars Google was bringing to France — TorrentFreak made the embarrassing announcement that six pirated downloads had been traced to IP addresses in Sarkozy's presidential palace.

While the president and his musician wife, Carla Bruni, have taken a tough stance on anti-file-sharing legislation, it seems someone in their home recently enjoyed (or at least downloaded) the new Eddie Murphy film "Tower Heist" and a few Beach Boys tracks, among other files.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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