The PJ Tatler

Battle For Internet Freedom of Speech Heats Up

There is a bit of fiction that Hollywood loves to promote: that it really believes in free speech.  Roger Simon can do a far better job attesting to the many silly “message” films that populate the L.A. studio sets. The studios rightfully defend them in the name of free speech.

Yet when it comes to crushing free speech on the Internet, it appears the movie industry is happy to lead the charge.

There is a piece of legislation — called the Protect IP Act — that’s coursing its way through the halls of Congress. It will permit Hollywood lawyers to criminalize and shut down web sites that allegedly use content without permission.

The champion for this legislation is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  MPAA’s new chief executive is the snarly former Democratic Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). MPAA reportedly has a war chest of $100 million and Dodd himself is to receive a base annual salary of $1.5 million. This is Senator Dodd’s first major piece of legislation since assuming the MPAA post.

First a few words about Dodd, who has had a reputation for launching vicious attacks on anyone who stands in his way. He is the first half of the controversial D0dd-Frank financial services law that is giving big headaches to both Wall Street and government regulators. He decided in 2008 not to seek re-election when he himself got ensnared in the Countrywide subprime housing scandal.

Now, however, Dodd is aggressively pressing for the Protect IP Act. Today a group of fifteen VC and high technology proponents are going to Capitol Hill to butt heads with the Hollywood lobby.  They say they are prepared to fight for the freedom of speech rights on the Internet.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronic Association is leading the group. This morning he details the disaster the Act would wreak for the Internet in a column today in Forbes:

“The PROTECT IP Act would allow copyright owners – movie studios and other content providers – simply to accuse a website of infringement, which could lead to that site being shut down by court order and entire links to the site being wiped clean from the Internet.  Any website with a hyperlink, such as Twitter, Facebook or a blog, would be subject to liability. More, non-infringing sites could be inadvertently shut down under the proposal. Indeed, the law is so far-reaching that it would force Internet providers like Comcast to block all access to the allegedly illegal site.”

Shapiro says the legislation is so broadly written that it could shut down Amazon or Best Buy web sites.

The list of entrepreneurs coming to Washington is impressive.  They include  Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures; Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital; Mike Masnick, Floor64; Derek Dukes, Dipity; David Ulevitch, OpenDNS; Slava Rubin, IndieGoGo; Zack Rosen, Chapter Three LLC; and Derek Parham, independent angel investor.