White House Won’t Back Internet Censorship in Anti-Piracy Bills

The Obama administration won’t back legislation to combat online piracy if it encourages censorship, undermines cybersecurity or disrupts the structure of the Internet, three White House technology officials said.

Their statement, posted yesterday on the White House website, was a response to online petitions on legislative proposals to combat online piracy. The movie and music industries support such measures as a means of cracking down on theft.

“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,” Aneesh Chopra, Victoria Espinel and Howard Schmidt wrote in a blog post.

The statement marks the administration’s most significant foray into a fight between content creators and Internet companies that has been playing out in Congress. The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote Jan. 24 on starting debate on an anti-piracy bill.

Chopra is the U.S. chief technology officer, Espinel is the coordinator for intellectual property enforcement in the Office of Management and Budget, and Schmidt is the White House cybersecurity coordinator.

The officials called on Congress to pass legislation this year to combat online piracy. They also wrote that the White House would soon be hosting a conference call with supporters of the petitions as well as an online event.

House Chairman’s Statement

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said his Stop Online Piracy Act meets the administration’s tests. Smith announced on Jan. 13 that he would remove a provision that would require Internet service providers, when ordered by a court, to block access to non-U.S. websites offering pirated content or counterfeit goods. The bill’s opponents say this could hurt the domain-name system.

In a statement yesterday, Smith said that censorship doesn’t include enforcing laws against “foreign thieves” who steal content.

“Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America’s most profitable and productive industries are under attack,” said Smith, a Texas Republican.

Internet Companies Opposed

Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and other Internet companies oppose Smith’s bill and companion legislation in the Senate. They say it will promote online censorship and threaten the growth of the U.S. technology industry.

The Motion Picture Association of America, which supports anti-piracy efforts, applauded the White House call for legislation.

“For too long in this debate, those that seek to preserve and profit from the status quo have moved to obstruct reasonable legislation,” said Michael O’Leary, the group’s senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs.

O’Leary said in the statement that “meaningful” legislation “must include measured and reasonable remedies that include ad brokers, payment processors and search engines.” Members of the Washington-based MPAA include the studio arms of The Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc.

Hearing Postponed

Representative Darrell Issa said yesterday that he would postpone a hearing on the bill that had been scheduled for Jan. 18. Even with the changes made by Smith, Issa said, the bill is still “fundamentally flawed.”

Issa, a California Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he has assurances from House leaders that the bill won’t go to the floor without a consensus. He has proposed an alternative approach.

“The voice of the Internet community has been heard,” Issa said in a statement. “Much more education for members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”

Smith’s bill is H.R. 3261. The Senate bill is S. 968.

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