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House Committee To Vote On Online Piracy Act


A long-running fight between Hollywood and Silicon Valley could get nastier today when a congressional committee votes on a bill about online piracy. Movie producers say the Stop Online Piracy Act creates stronger protections for intellectual property. Critics in the high-tech industry say the bill could have unintended consequences for the Internet, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hollywood loves a pirate - as long as he's on screen.


ROSE: The latest installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise captured more than a billion dollars at the box office worldwide this year, and that's before you count the booty from the DVD and Blu-ray sales. But Hollywood studios say they're losing more and more of those revenues to what the industry likes to call online piracy.

MICHAEL O'LEARY: These are not your father's thieves.

ROSE: Michael O'Leary is a senior vice president at the Motion Picture Association of America.

O'LEARY: They're overseas. They lie beyond the reach of kind of traditional U.S. law, and their operations have become more sophisticated.

ROSE: Hollywood is pushing hard for a House bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Supporters say SOPA and its Senate counterpart are intended to shut down so-called rogue websites which make money by circulating unauthorized copies of movies and other intellectual property. But critics of the legislation say it would stifle innovation.

MARKHAM ERICKSON: For example, under these bills, YouTube would have never gotten off the ground. They would have been shut down within months of beginning its operation.

ROSE: Markham Erickson is the president of Net Coalition, which lobbies for such big Internet companies such as Google, eBay and Yahoo. They've been clashing with Hollywood on these very issues for more than a decade. Under existing law, Internet companies like YouTube are not liable for copyright infringement by their users as long as they take down the offending material when they're asked to. But Ericson says SOPA would go way beyond current law by allowing copyright holders to take down an entire website over just a few examples of suspected infringement.

ERICKSON: And it raises the question: Are these proposals more about trying to create remedies to deal with the very real problem of offshore sites that are engaging in widespread illegal activity? Or is this more about the MPAA's interest in trying to control the distribution of their content?

ROSE: In other words, Erickson says, it looks like Hollywood is really trying to protect its business model from disruptive Internet companies like YouTube or Slingbox, a charge the Motion Picture Association denies. Again, Michael O'Leary.

O'LEARY: The only people that should be worried about the reach of these two bills are people that are engaging in criminal activity. Legitimate businesses, we want to work with those people.

ROSE: But critics of SOPA contend their input on the bill has been largely ignored. They do have their own supporters on Capitol Hill, though. Last week, Republican Darrell Issa of California introduced an alternative bill that would give the International Trade Commission more power to go after rogue websites without, he says, rewriting U.S. copyright law.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: SOPA was supposed to be about foreign entities that were beyond the reach of the American courts. Mine goes as far as the other bill said it had to go. It will have the authority to follow the money and cut off the domestic flow of money to these offshore entities.

ROSE: But Michael O'Leary at the Motion Picture Association says Issa's alternative - shifting power to the International Trade Commission - won't solve the problem.

O'LEARY: An enormous amount of time passes in that process, and that's frankly time we don't have. We don't want something that allows thieves an additional 12 to 18 months to steal our product while the bureaucracy kind of grinds its way towards a decision.

ROSE: The bureaucracy at the House Judiciary Committee is moving quickly on the Stop Online Piracy Act, which means the next sequel in the Hollywood versus Silicon Valley franchise may be coming soon to the House floor. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.