The copyright lobby comeuppance

As a representative of some of America’s most innovative companies, I have long fought against the legendary copyright lobby. But rarely in my 30 years of battle have I witnessed the copyright owners (Hollywood, the music industry, etc.) perform such a blatant power grab with a pair of bills moving through Congress today.

Their legislation – the PROTECT IP Act (S.968) in the Senate and its House equivalent, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, H.R.3261) – is so far reaching that, if enacted, it will chill Internet innovation, economic progress and job growth for the next generation.

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But first, the problem these bills want to solve is real. “Rogue” overseas websites are stealing copyrighted content. In fact, the more than 2,000 innovative U.S. companies I represent agree that we need to shut down these overseas sites that steal copyrighted, trademarked or patented products. But despite our common interest, the content lobby has refused to consider a different approach that does not stymie innovation and invite unnecessary litigation.

Rather, the content owners want to take a sledgehammer approach and shut down any website that hyperlinks to an offending site or advertises a product that they view as allowing copyright infringement. They want to shut down sites like YouTube, if a user posts copyrighted content, or cripple a search engine, if they believe a search turns up a connection to a site that has unauthorized content.

The copyright lobby is pursuing this all-or-nothing approach because it believes it has key members of Congress on its side – and to a large extent it does. The Congressional committees with jurisdiction are the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and the members on these committees see fundraising opportunities. While Democrats have traditionally been close to Hollywood and the record labels, some Republicans on the Judiciary Committees appear to have been seduced by the content lobby as well.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already passed its version of the bill, the PROTECT IP Act, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican, recently said the House counterpart bill (SOPA) would also pass his panel and he did not care about the concerns of the technology industry.

The content lobbyists are happy to devote lobbying power and dollars to shower politicians with gifts. Indeed, Politico recently reported that so far this year, the entertainment industry has spent $94 million on lobbying efforts. In fact, it’s fair to say the copyright lobby even bought the Chamber of Commerce on this issue; the Chamber staff is incentivized to bring in big cash, and the content lobby must have given enough money to the Chamber to convince it to support this proposal.

But the story does not end there.

You see, the disinfectant of sunlight is exposing the deadly impact this legislation will have on innovation and the Internet. Its stink of crony capitalism is so odorous, and the hubris of the content lobby is so huge, that Americans are openly and loudly rebelling.

Consider the disparate groups unified against this effort:


  • Since when do Tea Party leaders (Reps. Michelle Bachman and Ron Paul) appear on the same side as Moveon.org?
  • Since when do Sens. Ron Wyden (D -OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rand Paul (R-KY) collectively vow to block any unanimous consent request to consider the bill? They said they’re concerned about the cybersecurity implications of the bill and fear it would lead to decreased investment in Internet startups.
  • Since when does the conservative Republican Rep. Darrell Issa join with the liberal Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren to ask House members to oppose a bill?
  • The legislation is so bad that even the ultra-pro-copyright group Business Software Alliance has withdrawn its support for the bill.


The American people have woken up to the harm the bill would do to innovation, the First Amendment and the Internet itself. A more helpful approach has been suggested by several legislators from both Houses and parties. It would rely on the impartial International Trade Commission to stop offending websites.

By going too far, the content lobby has jolted Americans into an awareness that Congress needs to hear more than content lobby voices when considering copyright legislation. The future of the Internet, and the freedom it has fostered, is at stake.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), and author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.”