Should The Feds Block Online Pirates? Lobbyists Intensify Debate Over New Bill

Congress’ mailboxes are filling up fast with letters from both sides of the fight over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which the House introduced last week. The legislation, which would empower the government to block overseas website that traffic in copyrighted content, is pitting content owners who want to protect their intellectual property against tech companies who fear the power granted to shut down sites would be too vast and could harm the Web economy. Today, the MPAA — whose chairman Chris Dodd urged support for the bill in an industry speech Wednesday — put out a statement touting the support for SOPA from the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Fire Fighters, among other groups not usually associated with the entertainment industry. “The preparedness and safety of our members depend on sound, reliable equipment,” FOP National President Chuck Canterbury said in his group’s letter to lawmakers. “Counterfeit batteries, gloves, brake pads, and other equipment put us and the public at risk. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals, tooth paste, and footwear put our seniors and our children at risk. Organized gangs use these profits from counterfeit DVDs to fund other criminal enterprises and fuel violent crime in our communities here at home.”

Meanwhile, technology companies are gathering on the other side of the issue. In a letter to Congress, interest groups NetCoalition, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the Computer and Communications Industry Association today urged another approach to curbing online theft. They argue that “HR 3261 puts lawful U.S. Internet and technology companies at risk by creating new liabilities, opening the door for vague new technology mandates, imposing significant costs on small businesses, and would create a new unprecedented private right of action regime for intellectual property.”