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Copyright and IP: Summary of Hearing on HR 3261 "Stop Online Piracy Act"

House Judiciary Committee

Hearing on H.R. 3261, the "Stop Online Piracy Act"

November 16, 2011

 

Today the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to examine issues that relate to H.R. 3261,the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  Witnesses testifying were Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, John Clark with Pfizer, Michael O’Leary of the MPAA, Linda Kirkpatrick with Mastercard, Katherine Oyama with Google, and Paul Almeida with the AFL-CIO.

 

In this long and often contentious hearing, it was clear that there are members of the committee who are ready to support this legislation, and others who would like to see the creative community and the technology industry come to an agreement on an approach to combating foreign based rogue sites.

 

Chairman Smith in his opening statement called the effects of rogue sites “corrosive and damaging,” and explained that the intent of SOPA is to mitigate these consequences.  He proceeded to single out Google for “actively obstructing the actions of this committee.”  Other Members in attendance followed suit in their support for addressing the problem, including Ranking Member Conyers, Mel Watt, Howard Berman, Dennis Ross, Ted Poe, Louie Gohmert, Ted Deutch, and Shelia Jackson Lee.

 

Other members, such as Reps. Marino and Cohen, expressed a desire to see both the creative and tech industries work together to craft a solution to the rogue site problem while also recognizing the problem. Rep. Watt was even more insistent on seeking specific solutions from Google, instead of the harsh rhetoric they have used to describe it thus far.  Rep. Goodlatte, Chairman of the IP Subcommittee, asked Google if they would commit to working with the committee on a solution, which Google’s representative, Ms. Oyama, agreed to do.

 

Rep. Quayle, during questioning, noted that the piracy problem is unknowingly precluding the use of certain business models.  He said that piracy makes it harder for the creative community to undertake fee-based business models, while pushing content owners to implement ad-based business models.  Ms. Oyama agreed with the assertion that Google thrives under ad-based models.

 

Ms. Oyama, the lone witness for the opposition to the bill, explained that Google’s primary objections were to section 103, but that the company also takes issue with the remedies suggested in the bill.  She argued that the implementation of the legislation in its current form would raise cybersecurity issues. Further, she claimed that the scope of the definitions could adversely affect good actors, and moreover it raises concerns about freedom of speech.

 

Oyama’s primary contention, and one that she oft repeated, was that the solution is to take a “follow the money” approach.  She argued that if they choke rogue sites off at their revenue source, she cited Wikileaks as an example, they cannot continue.

 

She found few friends on the committee with the notable exceptions of Reps. Lofgren, Waters and Issa.  Lofgren, who stated that she felt the panel was imbalanced in favor of the bill, expressed frustration at the lack of a witness who could go into detail about the implications of the bill’s domain name blocking provision.

While Members did say that they would consider changes to address perceived problems, especially First Amendment concerns, almost everyone agreed that rogue sites are a serious problem and should be addressed.

 

In the midst of the hearing Reps. Darrel Issa and Zoe Lofgren announced they would be working on alternative bi-partisan legislation to address the problem.

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