Web company founders warn piracy law would stifle innovation

The founders of major Web companies, including Google, Twitter, Yahoo and eBay, sent an "open letter to Washington" on Wednesday, warning that pending piracy legislation could stifle innovation and censor free speech.

"We’ve all had the good fortune to found Internet companies and nonprofits in a regulatory climate that promotes entrepreneurship, innovation, the creation of content and free expression online," the founders wrote.

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"However we’re worried that the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act — which started out as well-meaning efforts to control piracy online — will undermine that framework."

The letter was signed by Google's Sergey Brin, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Yahoo's David Filo and Jerry Yang, eBay's Pierre Omidyar, Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, YouTube's Chad Hurley, craigslist's Craig Newmark, the Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington and others.

The piracy bills would empower the government and copyright holders to demand that search engines, Internet providers and ad networks block access to sites "dedicated" to copyright infringement.

The legislation is aimed at shutting down foreign sites such as The Pirate Bay that offer illegal copies of movies, music and television shows with impunity.

But the tech founders compared the legislation to authoritarian tactics used to suppress free speech in countries like China, Malaysia and Iran, claiming the bills would give "the U.S. Government the power to censor the web."

They argued the legislation would "deny website owners the right to due process of law" and would "undermine security online." 

They said websites will have to monitor what their users link to or upload to keep the government from labeling them as "dedicated" to copyright infringement.

"We urge Congress to think hard before changing the regulation that underpins the Internet," they wrote. "Let’s not deny the next generation of entrepreneurs and founders the same opportunities that we all had."

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But House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), SOPA's sponsor, accused the bill's opponents of "spreading lies."

He said recent changes to the bill ensure that it only applies to foreign rogue websites.

"Lawful companies and websites like Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Facebook have nothing to worry about this bill," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

But he singled out Google, which has been lobbying forcefully against the legislation, for special criticism. 

"Companies like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites, so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue websites," he claimed.

He noted that Google had to pay $500 million in August to settle charges that it placed ads for illegal pharmacies.

"Their opposition to this legislation is self-serving since they profit from doing business with rogue sites that steal and sell America’s intellectual property," he said.

Smith's Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on SOPA on Thursday.