Jobs Vs Free Speech? House Committee Hears Debate Over Stop Online Piracy Act

UPDATED: The House Judiciary Committee has wrapped up its hearing about the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would enable the government to block overseas websites that traffic in copyright-infringing content. Movie studios support the measure and tech companies oppose it. Representatives from the MPAA, U.S. Library of Congress, Pfizer, MasterCard, Google, and the AFL-CIO testified.

Bill opponents complained that the witness list was overloaded with supporters. “Concerns about SOPA have been raised by Tea Partiers, progressives, computer scientists, human rights advocates, venture capitalists, law professors, independent musicians, and many more. Unfortunately, these voices were not heard at today’s hearing,” Consumer Electronic Association CEO Gary Shapiro says. Google, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter said in a letter to the committee yesterday that the bill poses “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Google says it would rather see lawmakers pass legislation that would trace consumer payments to copyright-infringing sites. “If we can cut off their financial ties, they won’t have a way to make money,” Google counsel Katherine Oyama said, warning that SOPA could lead to “unintended consequences” stifling free speech. “Getting the balance right is important.”

But Michael O’Leary, the MPAA’s senior EVP for global policy and external affairs, says that the measure “is about jobs” noting that movie and TV companies account for more than 2M jobs across all states with $38.9B going in 2009 to small businesses. Rogue websites overseas are “increasingly sophisticated in appearance and take on many attributes of legitimate content delivery sites, creating additional enforcement challenges and feeding consumer confusion. … Even major motion pictures newly in theaters appear on these rogue sites just days, if not hours, after their theatrical release — exploited for profits by thieves who did not work, took no risk, and invested no resources in the production of those films.” Existing measures such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) can’t stop pirates because “their purpose is to traffic in stolen content. And when they are based overseas, they can simply thumb their noses at U.S. law,” O’Leary says.

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