Google, Facebook Attack Anti-Piracy Legislation Headed for House Vote

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) are attacking anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. House and Senate, saying that the Hollywood-backed measures would threaten the technology industry and lead to censorship.

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Google and eBay executives claim the bills would have a “chilling effect on innovation,” and give the U.S. government the “power to censor the Web using techniques similar to those used by China,” according to a letter sent to U.S. lawmakers.

Lobbying by Internet companies has picked up as the House Judiciary Committee prepares to vote tomorrow on its version of the Hollywood-supported measure. Today’s letter was signed by sixteen executives, including Google co-founder Sergey Brin, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, PayPal Inc. co-founder Elon Musk, and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) co-founder Jerry Yang.

The Hollywood-backed House bill and similar legislation in the senate would grant the Justice Department the ability to seek court orders requiring U.S. Internet service providers, search engines, payment processors, and ad networks to block or cease business with non-U.S. websites linked to online piracy.

Google and Facebook are endorsing alternative anti-piracy legislation drafted by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representative Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) that would give the U.S. International Trade Commission, rather than the Justice Department, the lead role in fighting non-U.S. websites linked to online piracy.

“This approach targets foreign rogue sites without inflicting collateral damage on legitimate, law-abiding U.S. Internet companies by bringing well-established international trade remedies to bear on this problem,” Google and Facebook, joined by seven other companies including eBay and Yahoo, wrote in a letter yesterday to Wyden and Issa.

But Michael O’Leary, senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, claims the proposal by Wyden and Issa, “fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting.”

The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) in October, is backed by the Washington-based MPAA, as well as the Recording Industry Association of America. The bill has multiple co-sponsors from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

“Lawful companies and websites like Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook have nothing to worry about this bill,” Smith said in an e-mailed statement today. “Unfortunately, that has not stopped some of the bill’s critics from spreading lies about the legislation in an attempt to stall efforts by Congress to combat foreign rogue websites.”

Smith released an amendment to his bill on Monday seeking to resolve technology-industry concerns by narrowing the definition of websites targeted under the measure. The amendment would also require an inter-agency study on the bill’s impact to the Internet’s domain-name system.

Smith said that “companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue websites.”

Just this year, Google agreed to pay $500 million to settle allegations that advertising for online Canadian pharmacies on its website allowed illegal imports of prescription drugs.

Smith’s amendment “retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor by blocking Americans’ ability to access websites, imposing costly regulation on web companies and giving Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice broad new powers to police the Internet,” Issa said in a statement yesterday.

The amendment “fails to correct some of the original concerns we have raised since the start of the debate,” said Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, a technology industry group that represents Google, Yahoo and other Web companies.

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