Northern California technology companies and Southern California entertainment firms have been engaged in a public relations and lobbying war over pending legislation in the House and Senate.
The legislation purports to address Internet piracy, and Hollywood already has lost a key battle involving it.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives, and the corresponding PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate, would purportedly expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.
Hollywood has pushed hard for the legislation as a way to protect the intellectual property of both the music and movie businesses. However, Silicon Valley Internet companies have characterized the bills as allowing government to over-regulate speech and inhibit the free flow of digital information.
Under the proposed laws, Internet service providers would be required, pursuant to a court order, to take away from alleged pirates the ability to access the Internet.
In addition, Internet providers would be required to keep watch over products and services that are advertised or promoted via their networks.
This past weekend, by means of a White House statement, President Barack Obama took sides in the matter, expressing opposition to SOPA and PIPA and aligning himself alongside Silicon Valley and against Hollywood.
The alignment materialized via a blog post that strongly suggested the president would not sign the legislation in its present form.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” the statement indicated.
The White House statement made mention of one of the most hotly debated aspects of the proposed legislation, the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates browser requests for domain names into the appropriate IP address.
The original bill allows both the U.S. government and copyright holders to file court orders to block the DNS of websites associated with pirating or copyright infringement, thus effectively removing the respective site from the web.
Technology companies contend that since the legislation forces Internet service providers to separate out DNS queries, the integrity of the system would be undermined.
“Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security,” the statement indicated. “Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.”
Media magnate Rupert Murdoch criticized the president for the statement, using his new Twitter account.
“So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery,” Murdock wrote.
The White House statement has apparently caused congressional leaders to blink. The most outspoken opponent of the proposed bill, California Rep. Darrell Issa, indicated that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said there would be no vote unless there is consensus on the bill.
The news is an unexpected and significant loss for Hollywood. The new head of the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA), former Sen. Christopher Dodd, had in large part been given the MPAA post because of his perceived influence on legislators.
Hollywood is known for having the best publicists in the world, and yet the industry appears to have lost this battle due to extremely poor messaging. The entertainment business was successfully characterized by the technology industry as having attempted to undermine the First Amendment and otherwise harm the infrastructure of the web.
However, since the legislation is still alive in Congress, and both the Senate and House are attempting to rework the bills, the war is far from over.
James Hirsen, J.D., M.A. in media psychology, is a New York Times best-selling author, media analyst, and law professor. He is admitted to practice in the U.S. Supreme Court and has made several appearances there on landmark decisions. Visit Newsmax.TV Hollywood.
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