Bill Pits Hollywood Against Silicon Valley

Hollywood wants the government to crack down on digital piracy of films and TV shows, but Silicon Valley is not interested in being the nation's online piracy police. A look at why the White House weighed in on this legislative fight.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

If you visit one of Wikipedia's nearly four million content pages tomorrow, you likely won't find much content. The Web's popular free encyclopedia is expected to go dark for the day. It's part of a protest against legislation percolating here in Washington to fight online piracy.

As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the bill pits two groups against each other that have both had a lot of political clout: Hollywood versus Silicon Valley.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Given how partisan and acrimonious Congress has been lately, what happened last May was kind of amazing, says Mark Lemley. He directs Stanford's Program in Law, Science and Technology.

PROFESSOR MARK LEMLEY: It's quite remarkable. The bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, passed out of committee unanimously less than two weeks after it was introduced. It had the backing of Hollywood and it was pitched to the senators as, well, this is a bill against piracy and piracy is bad.

SHAPIRO: When he says it had the backing of Hollywood, he's talking about people like former Senator Chris Dodd, who now runs the Motion Picture Association of America. Dodd says if online pirates don't stop stealing American movies and TV shows, hard-working Americans will lose their jobs; not just the folks on the red carpet, but the people whose names roll by in the credits who you've never heard of.

CHRIS DODD: All of those jobs you're looking at, by and large, are blue-collar jobs; hard-working people who pay mortgages, raise their families, put food on the table. And we're now told, and the numbers vary, but anywhere in the thousands of jobs in this country and elsewhere are at risk because the product that they make is being stolen.

SHAPIRO: That pitch was enough to persuade all of the Republicans and the Democrats on the committee to vote for the online piracy bill. But then the Internet did what the Internet does so well, says Professor Lemley. It spread information about this proposal - misinformation, says Hollywood - and people got agitated.

LEMLEY: There's been a truly unprecedented outpouring of opposition to these bills.

SHAPIRO: That opposition pitted Northern California against Southern California, Internet platforms providers against content providers, Silicon Valley against Hollywood.

Jay Walsh is head of communications for the organization that runs Wikipedia.

JAY WALSH: There are millions and millions of links up on Wikipedia. And one of the options that this bill sort of presents is that you have to be aggressively pleasing (unintelligible). And for an organization like Wikipedia that's just not scalable, it's not the way that we work.

SHAPIRO: Walsh fears of the way these laws are written, Wikipedia could be held in violation if someone posts a link on a Wikipedia page to another site that includes pirated material among millions of files.

The protests seem to be working. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was on "Meet the Press" Sunday.

SENATOR HARRY REID: In recent weeks, organizations like Google and Facebook and others have said, well, there's some problems this could create. And I think they're right.

SHAPIRO: The White House weighed in over the weekend to. The administration said it was responding to a We the People Petition on the White House website. The conclusion: President Obama wants to end online piracy, but these proposals don't strike the right balance, said spokesman Jay Carney at today's White House briefing.

JAY CARNEY: It's a serious problem that requires serious legislative responses. But we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.

SHAPIRO: This argument sticks the White House between two groups that support President Obama. He regularly does town hall meetings with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. He also regularly attends $35,000 a plate fundraisers with Hollywood.

Dodd, of the Motion Picture Association, says Hollywood does not feel betrayed by the president's position on this.

DODD: Their major point in the bill, that we should work together to pass legislation - legislation necessary to stop online content thievery - is a part of their statement which we agree with.

SHAPIRO: Dodd and the bills other supporters say tomorrow's protest by Wikipedia, Google and others is little more than a publicity stunt. And if there's one thing Hollywood knows, it's publicity.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.