Google is exhorting senators to oppose an online piracy bill, arguing it would threaten national security, shackle the Internet with regulations and imperil free speech, according to a document obtained by The Hill.
The memo that is being circulated on Capitol Hill lists five reasons not to co-sponsor the legislation. It argues the bill puts at risk “the ability for free speech and the ability of political parties to spread their message” while creating a “thicket of new Internet regulations similar to the administration’s net-neutrality rules.”
Google also argues in the document that the measure would damage the nation’s cybersecurity.
“This is what is wrong with Washington,” the memo says. “Legislation just to regulate and not allowing the private sector to solve the problem."
The search giant has been among the most aggressive opponents of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) Protect IP Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year.
The bill would require search sites, online ad networks and other third parties to cut ties with websites deemed “rogue” or dedicated to copyright infringement.
Google confirmed the authenticity of the document and said it "expresses valid concerns we have with the bill" that have also been voiced by third-party groups.
Sources said it was written by Lee Carosi Dunn, a former top telecom aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who joined Google earlier this year.
Protect IP and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are strongly supported by the entertainment industry, organized labor and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The House bill has prompted a backlash from Web firms concerned its language is overly broad and could ensnare legitimate businesses. A Senate aide said Web companies are more opposed to the House version because the Senate is further along in the legislative process and has already responded to concerns raised after the bill’s introduction last September.
The Senate bill includes a more stringent definition of rogue websites, while the House bill’s language is broader and could apply to more sites. The aide said the Senate bill wouldn’t apply to social networks like Facebook and Tumblr, which have opposed SOPA.
“There is no First Amendment right to steal. The Protect IP Act will go a long way to preventing theft online. This will protect Americans’ intellectual property rights, which in turn boosts our economy and promotes American jobs,” Leahy said in a statement.
Free speech advocates have voiced concerns about potential censorship in connection with both bills, prompting Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to place a hold on Protect IP earlier this year. Wyden has vowed to filibuster the bill if it comes up for debate. Other senators have placed holds on it as well.
Michael O’Leary, a senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, said the free speech concerns are overblown.
“There is no inconsistency between protecting free speech and this bill,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary said the motion picture industry is particularly reliant on the First Amendment and would never do anything to jeopardize it. He said the bill’s supporters welcome input from Web firms with genuine concerns about the bill’s provisions, but accused Google and other opponents of “screaming regulation” in order to “curry favor with Republicans.”
Google is not alone in opposing Protect IP, but the search giant has become a target for lawmakers thanks to its ubiquitous search service.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Ohio) accused his colleagues of using the firm as a “piñata” during a hearing on the House bill in front of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month.
Scott Harbinson of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees slammed tech companies for saying piracy legislation would cost the country jobs. He said copyright theft has already had an impact on the employment of his 115,000 union members.
“When Google and other piracy apologists start talking about free speech, it’s completely disingenuous,” Harbinson said. “These guys don’t give a crap about free speech.”
O’Leary agreed, expressing confidence the “hyperbole and distraction” wouldn’t prevent lawmakers from reaching the finish line on the legislation.
“All players in the Internet chain who profess to care about copyright protections should come forward with meaningful solutions — not simply throw up unfounded charges and suggest they will ignore the will of Congress anyway," said Recording Industry Association of American senior vice president for communications Jonathan Lamy.
—Updated at 7:00 p.m.