By Gautham Nagesh - 11/16/11 10:30 AM EST
Google, Facebook and other technology companies are aligning with the Tea Party to defeat copyright legislation championed by movie studios and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Tech companies are seen as the underdog in the lobbying battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would allow the government or copyright holders to obtain court orders to force search engines and online advertising networks to cut ties with “rogue” websites using pirated material.
The bill also has significant support from members of both parties on Smith’s panel and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed a companion bill earlier this year.
On the other side stand Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, eBay and Google, which will testify Wednesday morning at a House Judiciary hearing on the measure.
The tech companies argue the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding firms to new liabilities and requirements that they monitor websites.
Silicon Valley has turned to traditional supporters in Congress like Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to fight against the measure, but its strongest allies in the political world might be lawmakers with ties to the Tea Party.
Tea Party groups have generally expressed worry about government intrusion on the Web, and the Tea Party Patriots oppose Smith’s measure on the grounds that it would impose burdensome regulation on the economy’s most dynamic sector.
Tea Party favorite Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) crossed party lines to join a host of Democrats in writing to the House Judiciary Committee on Monday voicing concern about the bill’s “overly broad language.”
Another Tea Party Republican, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), last month expressed “serious concerns about government getting involved in regulation of the Internet” ahead of the bill’s introduction in the House. Bachmann’s spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Tea Party Patriots has worked with liberal groups and free-speech advocates concerned the legislation would infringe on privacy and free speech on the Web.
Public Knowledge communications director Art Brodsky acknowledged the legislation has made for some “strange bedfellows.” He called it “a case of disparate people seeing where their common interests lie on a piece of legislation that’s so remarkably bad.”
“A lot of people see different things in this bill and everybody agrees that it’s fatally flawed,” he added.
Brodsky also pointed to the unlikely pairing of House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who united on a “Dear Colleague” letter opposing the bill despite rarely seeing eye to eye on policy matters.
“Online innovation and commerce were responsible for 15 percent of U.S. GDP growth from 2004 to 2009, according to the McKinsey Global Institute,” wrote Issa and Lofgren. “Before we impose a sprawling new regulatory regime on the Internet, we must carefully consider the risks that it could pose for this vital engine of our economy.”
The fight over the bill illustrates a growing divide not only between the newer and older wings of the business community, which was reflected in reports that Google is considering leaving the U.S. Chamber, but also within the GOP.
The political coalition that backed both patent reform and the online copyright legislation features numerous veteran lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Critics charge members of both Judiciary committees rely heavily on fundraising from the very groups that back the bill.
But many freshman Republicans entered Congress with a goal of fighting regulatory overreach and could prove a thorn in the side of the bill’s supporters. While support in the Senate appears to be enough to pass the bill, the lower chamber’s outlook is much less certain.
Stakeholders expect the Judiciary Committee to move ahead with a markup in the coming weeks. With the committee’s approval a foregone conclusion, floor debate in both chambers will be where the issue is decided.
Opponents hope to sway enough lawmakers in the House to either kill the bill outright or change it enough that reconciliation with the Senate legislation would be difficult, if not impossible.
Issa, a heavyweight in the House GOP, could be a key player in finding a compromise between the two sides. One lobbyist on the issue said Issa wants narrowly targeted legislation that doesn’t “ensnare” legitimate websites.
“I think [Issa] will try to make everyone happy on this,” the lobbyist said.
But the time crunch until Congress moves in to full campaign mode made one lobbyist contacted skeptical of the bill’s odds this session.
“Look how long it took for the House to even introduce the bill,” a lobbyist familiar with the issues told The Hill. “The easiest legislation isn’t passing. I think [this bill] is going to have its challenges.”
Still, the legislation has momentum because of its clear bipartisan support at a time when voting on partisan lines is the norm. That nonpartisan nature “should give [the bill] some steam,” another lobbyist familiar with the issue told The Hill.
The chief IP counsel of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed, calling the legislation “a lock.”
“No matter how you slice it, the support here is impressive,” Steve Tepp said. “I think it’s striking that with all that is going on on the Hill right now and generally, that this legislation is cutting across every single political line.”
Rachel Leven contributed to this article.