Author of online piracy bill vows not to buckle

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2012 7:13 PM
Author of online piracy bill vows not to buckle

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The author of the Stop Online Piracy Act vowed to press ahead with his bill despite fierce opposition from internet giants such as Google and Facebook, faulting opponents for putting their profits ahead those lost by victims of counterfeit products.

"It is amazing to me that the opponents apparently don't want to protect American consumers and businesses," U.S. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, told Reuters in a telephone interview on Thursday.

"Are they somehow benefitting by directing customers to these foreign websites? Do they profit from selling advertising to these foreign websites? And if they do, they need to be stopped. And I don't mind taking that on."

The bill, which is before the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Smith, aims to reduce online piracy of pharmaceuticals, music and other consumer products by allowing the Department of Justice to ask federal courts to issue injunctions against foreign-based websites.

Smith claims internet counterfeiters cost American consumers, businesses, inventors and workers some $100 billion a year, though critics accuse him of exaggerating.

Under the bill if a judge agrees websites are offering material that violates U.S. copyright laws, internet service providers could be required to block access to foreign sites, and U.S. online ad networks could be required to stop advertisements and search engines barred from directly linking to them.

High tech heavyweights such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit oppose the bill, which came under fire at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Reddit CEO Alexis Ohanian has said it would "cripple the internet" and pledged to take his social media site dark for one day next week to protest the bill.

"This (SOPA) could potentially obliterate the entire tech industry -- a job-creating industry," Ohanian wrote on his blog.

Smith stressed the bill would only affect websites based outside the United States and criticized opponents for failing to cite specific sections, saying many have failed to read it and were disguising their economic interests with rhetoric about internet freedom.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told the Economic Club of Washington last month that Smith's bill would "effectively break the Internet" and he compared Smith's efforts to the same type of censorship which Google has experienced in the People's Republic of China.

"There are some companies like Google that make money by directing consumers to these illegal web sites," Smith said. "So I don't think they have any real credibility to complain even though they are the primary opponent."

Smith, 64, is the heir of a prominent south Texas ranching family who is more comfortable with cattle brands than computers and has received numerous awards from conservative organizations for his opposition to efforts to expand the power of the federal government. But he says giving Washington sweeping powers over the internet is necessary to protect free enterprise.

Smith predicted the bill would pass the House. It was about halfway through the process of committee hearings and could go to the House floor in a matter a weeks, he said. A similar bill was under way in the Senate.

Politico reported earlier this week that opposition to SOPA has become a rallying cry and fundraising tool for opponents of members of Congress who support it, including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republic from Wisconsin.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta)