Porn, Justin Bieber and net neutrality: House copyright law inspires PR war

Josh Peterson | Tech Editor

The House Judiciary Committee met Wednesday to hear witnesses discuss the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — a highly anticipated and controversial piece of copyright enforcement legislation that has inspired a public relations war between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Public Relations campaigns against SOPA have entangled the pornography industry, incensed Justin Bieber, raised arguments on net neutrality and provoked an anti-censorship campaign.

SOPA would update existing copyright law to give the Department of Justice legal authority to target foreign online piracy sites that facilitate copyright infringement of U.S. intellectual property, like those that originate from China and Russia.

The music and movie industries say billions of dollars benefiting the American economy are on the line, while “free culture” advocates say that SOPA would endanger First Amendment freedoms.

Those opposed to the bill say its language  is too broad and vague, and that current copyright law is outdated and inappropriate for the existing advanced state of technology.

The adult film industry also has a stake in the matter: Torrent Freak, a blog dedicated to BitTorrent-related news, reported that as of January 2011, the adult film industry had filed 99,924 law suits against users alleged to have shared adult materials via BitTorrent file-sharing technology, calling the lawsuits “predatory.”

“Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but they can’t use shoddy and unfair tactics to do so,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry told an Illinois court in January. “We’re asking the court to protect the rights of each and every defendant, instead of allowing these copyright trolls to game the system.”

Rep. Lamar Smith, the bill’s main sponsor, did not respond to The Daily Caller’s calls by the time of publication. Girls Gone Wild and Hustler also did not return requests.

Anti-SOPA group Fight for the Future led a similar campaign to target legislation similar to SOPA and its Senate version, Protect IP — Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill S.978, which prosecutes against the illegal streaming of copyrighted material. Fight for the Future’s campaign,  FreeBieber.org, said that Justin Bieber would go to jail under intensified copyright law for singing songs and posting them on YouTube. The website, which depicted the tween sensation behind bars due to the penalties they say he would incur under S.978, used Bieber’s remark that Klobuchar should be cuffed and put in jail” as an endorsement of the organization’s campaign.

Fight for the Future — directed by OpenCongress.com founder Tiffiniy Cheng — and left-wing activist group Demand Progress delivered a petition with over 500,000 signatures opposing SOPA to Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Tuesday.

Demand Progress was founded by Aaron Schwartz, who is also the founder of Internet news site Reddit. Schwartz faces up to 35 years in prison and up to a $1 million fine if convicted for downloading 4 million academic articles from academic archive JSTOR.

Demand Progress and Fight for the Future were among organizations that spearheaded a public relations effort called “American Censorship Day,” urging supporters to install a banner advertising  against SOPA on their websites. OpenCongress.com was a participant.

The Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules “will soon have a giant loophole drilled into them” if SOPA is passed, OpenCongress.com editor Donny Shaw wrote Tuesday. OpenCongress.com is a research site dedicated to tracking legislation.

“The [companies] that support SOPA have been ‘speaking’ to Congress with their campaign contributions as well,” Shaw continued. “According to an analysis by MapLight.org, [interests] that support the bill have given four times more money to members of Congress than [interests that] oppose it.”

MapLight.org is supported by funding from a host of progressive foundations working to advance a media reform agenda that includes net neutrality: Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Rockefeller Family Fund are listed as some of its financial supporters.

One anti-SOPA article on Tech Dirt, written before the hearing, called the proceedings a “total joke” because the number of witnesses said to be pro-SOPA outnumbered anti-SOPA witnesses 4:1.

Criticism of SOPA has also come from conservatives: TechFreedom senior fellow Larry Downes is an open critic of SOPA.

“The bill makes three grave errors,” Downes said in a statement the day of the hearing. “First, SOPA fails to identify the specific problems for which existing laws are inadequate. Second, it favors broad remedies over narrowly-tailored solutions. Third, it commissions the a proper cost-benefit analysis but only after the bill becomes law — too late to ensure that SOPA strikes the right balance.”

“We believe that the thoughtful way to attack piracy… is going to have to be considerably different from the current bill,” Issa said at the Tuesday press conference with Demand Progress and Fight for the Future.

“Opposition to this legislation is snowballing on the Internet and in the halls of Congress,” added Demand Progress and Fight for the Future spokesman David Moon.  “The bill’s sponsors need to heed these rumblings before they’re overtaken by the pending avalanche.”

Even Google is protesting SOPA. Google has been a financial supporter of EFF, Public Knowledge and other organizations opposing rogue websites legislation in Congress, wrote Robert Levine, author of the book “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back,” in an OpEd.

Senior executive vice president of Recording Industry Association of America Mitch Glazier sent a letter to Congress Tuesday in response to the technology companies protesting SOPA and Protect IP, writing, “This is yet another example of the posturing that is disheartening to those of us who work on behalf of the creative and brand industries, and are interested in creating new jobs by having a level playing field to sell our products and services.”

Follow Josh on Twitter

*This article has been updated to clarify Protect IP

Tags : darrell issa justin bieber net neutrality
Loading comments...
© Copyright 2010 - 2018 | The Daily Caller