January 18, 2012, 2:01 PM EST |By Eric Engleman and Chiara Remondini
(Adds MPAA chairman comment in eighth paragraph.)
Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) — Google Inc. will place a link on its home page tomorrow protesting anti-piracy measures in the U.S. Congress, joining other Internet companies demonstrating against the Hollywood-backed legislation.
Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, and Facebook Inc. are among companies opposing House and Senate bills they say they will hurt the growth of the U.S. technology industry. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia where users contribute entries, said it will shut the English version of its website for 24 hours tomorrow to protest the measures.
“We oppose these bills because there are smart, targeted ways to shut down foreign rogue websites without asking American companies to censor the Internet,” Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said in an e-mail today.
The Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate are backed by the movie and music industries as a means to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods by non-U.S. websites. Hollywood studios want lawmakers to ensure that Internet companies such as Google share responsibility for curbing the distribution of pirated material.
A legislative push led by the Washington-based Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business-lobbying group, has run into a backlash from Web companies that say the bills would saddle them with new liabilities and technology mandates.
‘Abuse of Power’
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, called the decision to shut the website an “extraordinary” action in response to the proposed laws, which “endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”
Wikipedia, available in 282 languages, contains more than 20 million articles contributed by more than 100,000 volunteers around the world.
The so-called blackout day to protest anti-piracy legislation is “abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today,” Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, said today in an e-mailed statement.
“It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests,” said Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat who served three decades in the Senate.
Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who sponsored the House measure, also criticized the planned Wikipedia shutdown.
“The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites,” Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said today in an e-mailed statement. “This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts.”
Smith said he expects his committee to resume debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act in February and didn’t provide a date for when the panel would act.
The administration of President Barack Obama said in a blog post on Jan. 14 that it wouldn’t support legislation that encourages censorship, undermines cybersecurity or disrupts the structure of the Internet.
The blog post, by three White House technology officials, marked the administration’s most significant foray into the fight between content creators and Web companies playing out in Congress. The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote Jan. 24 on starting debate on the Protect IP Act.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch called Google a “piracy leader” in a Jan. 14 post on Twitter, saying it streams movies for free and sells advertisements around them. A day later he wrote on Twitter that Google is a “great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint, and it’s important.”
Miranda Higham, a News Corp. spokeswoman, declined to comment.
Smith, the Google spokeswoman, said the company respects copyright. “Last year we took down 5 million infringing Web pages from our search results and invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads,” she said in an e-mail.
The House Judiciary Committee debated the Stop Online Piracy Act during a 12-hour hearing last month in which lawmakers offered 60 amendments to the legislation. Panel members voted on about half of those amendments before the session was adjourned.
Smith, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said 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.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Jan. 12 that he’s willing to consider dropping a similar provision from the bill he sponsored. Opponents say such website-blocking may harm the stability of the Internet’s domain-name system.
The Senate measure cleared Leahy’s committee in May and awaits consideration by the full chamber.
The Senate bill is S. 968 and the House bill is H.R. 3261.
–With assistance from Richard Rubin in Washington. Editors: Steve Walsh, Michael Shepard
To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Chiara Remondini in Milan at email@example.com://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-18/google-plans-home-page-protest-against-u-s-piracy-measures.html