Issa: Congress using Google as ‘piñata’

Google is being used as a “piñata” by lawmakers looking to blame the search giant for online piracy, powerful Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Wednesday in exclusive comments to The Hill.

Issa said lawmakers are beginning to realize they can’t just blame Google for the problem of online piracy, and predicted legislation opposed by Silicon Valley giants including Google, Facebook and eBay is doomed because Republican leaders will realize the damage it would do to the knowledge-based economy. 

“What they’re realizing is there are so many unintended consequences that they can’t just use Google as a piñata and bash on it here,” Issa told The Hill during a break in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act, which is opposed by much of Silicon Valley. 

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“I don’t believe this bill has any chance on the House floor,” Issa said. “I think it’s way too extreme, it infringes on too many areas that our leadership will know is simply too dangerous to do in its current form.” 

Google came under fire during the hearing from lawmakers in both parties who put the onus on it to stop rogue websites from stealing intellectual property from movie studios, the recording industry and retail companies. 

The online piracy bill would force search engines, online ad networks and other Web firms to delete links to foreign sites deemed rogue or dedicated to online copyright infringement. 

But Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said growing opposition would compel House leaders to abandon the bill despite bipartisan support in both chambers. 

Colleagues like House Cybersecurity panel Chairman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) would come around to his point of view as the bill’s unintended consequences become clear, Issa predicted. 

“This is a very broad coalition from far left to far right who realize this will hurt innovation, something we can’t afford to do. And there are other ways to accomplish what they say is their goal,” Issa said. 

Google policy counsel Katherine Oyama was the only witness Wednesday who voiced opposition to the bill. 

The other five witnesses commented favorably on the legislation, prompting Issa and other opponents to decry the hearing as one-sided. 

Issa said the rush to hold the hearing was based on the flawed assumption the bipartisan bill would quickly become law. He said the bill’s sponsors didn’t want to hear from opponents, but argued those lawmakers must now accept that there is real opposition to their bill. 

Google was the target of some harsh criticism during the hearing, with several lawmakers suggesting the firm doesn’t do enough to remove pirated content from its search results. 

Ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) used his opening statement to cite an entertainment industry study that found up to a quarter of all Internet traffic stems from copyright infringement, echoing a common refrain at the hearing that the status quo is unacceptable.

 

“To those that say that a bill to stop online theft will break the Internet, I would like to point out that if one-quarter of Internet traffic is dedicated to crime, the Internet already seems rather defunct,” Conyers said. “Laws govern the brick-and-mortar world, and the Internet can be no different.”
 

Oyama emphasized that Google already removes links to infringing sites under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). 

Oyama referred to the definition of rogue sites and other terms in the bill as vague and overly broad, and argued the bill as written includes “harsh and arbitrary sanctions without due process.”

 

She exhorted the committee to focus its enforcement efforts on cutting off sources of revenue to infringing sites, saying Google has worked with the committee over the last six months to create an effective solution for doing so. 

Oyama’s assurances did not appease Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the main sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act, who voiced skepticism that Google would live up to its pledge.

 

“You’ve spoken a lot of the right words today; I only hope your company and others will practice what you preach,” Smith said, adding that many stakeholders view the current enforcement regime against piracy as insufficient.

 

Issa said he believes the bill can’t be fixed, and argued it doesn’t use the best tools for settling disputes regarding foreign sites. He said such cases would be best addressed by the U.S. International Trade Commission and plans to offer bipartisan legislation that creates a court of continued jurisdiction to handle such copyright claims after the Thanksgiving break.

— Posted at 4:56 p.m. and updated at 7:46 p.m.