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Hollywood and Silicon Valley spar over anti-piracy bill

November 17, 2011|By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

The fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over proposed anti-piracy legislation is heating up on Capitol Hill.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Michael O'Leary, senior executive vice president for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Hollywood's chief lobbying arm, urged lawmakers to move swiftly to pass a bill that would make it easier to shut down rogue websites that traffic in pirated movies and TV shows.

Such websites pose a threat to the 95,000 small businesses across the country involved in the production and distribution of movies and television and cost the industry billions of dollars each year, O'Leary testified.

"To these men, women and their families, online content theft means declining incomes, reduced health and retirement benefits and lost jobs," O'Leary said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. "Criminals are not standing still, and if our efforts to protect American creativity are to succeed, the law cannot stand still either."

O'Leary's remarks were quickly rebuffed by a coalition of leading technology companies fiercely opposed to the bill. The Stop Online Piracy Act would allow prosecutors to seek court orders requiring U.S. Internet sites and search engines to take steps to block access to websites distributing pirated material. But Google and other companies fear the provisions would unfairly restrict legitimate websites and promote censorship on the Internet.

"This legislation would erase the fundamental legal underpinning on which the Internet and innovation depend," Markham Erickson, executive director of the NetCoalition, said in a statement. The trade group represents EBay, Google, Yahoo and other heavyweights in the tech industry. "It would hurl the digital world into vast legal uncertainty that would result in mainstream U.S. websites being shut down with little or no notice, and where new products and services — as well as existing ones — could be sued out of existence."

This week, Google, Yahoo and other tech giants sent a letter to congressional leaders, saying, "We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation as well as our nation's cybersecurity."

The House Judiciary Committee could vote on the bill next week; the Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved a similar version of the proposed legislation called the Protect IP Act, although it's uncertain when that will be voted on by the full Senate.

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