It’s not a battle between Hollywood and tech, its people who get the Internet and those who don’t.
When the Obama administration announced on Saturday its opposition to major elements of two Congressional bills intended to curtail copyright violations on the Internet, the technology industry, which has been loudly fighting the proposed legislation, could declare victory.
But few people in Silicon Valley or Hollywood consider the battle over.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents Hollywood studios and is a principal proponent of the antipiracy legislation, suggested that it would continue to push the administration to approve a modified version of the bills, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. “Look forward to @whitehouse playing a constructive role in moving forward on #sopa & #pipa,” the association posted on its Twitter feed Saturday night.
Some leaders of the movie industry were not as diplomatic. The chief executive of News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, in a flurry of Twitter messages in the hours after the White House announcement, accused President Obama of capitulating to the technology industry. “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery,” he posted on his Twitter feed.
The antipiracy bills presented a difficult test to a young, disorganized and largely politically inactive technology industry. It is unclear that companies like Facebook and Google, left to themselves, could have swayed members of Congress or the White House without using the Internet to marshal opposition from technologists, entrepreneurs and computer-adept consumers. Opposition came from a vast spectrum, including computer security specialists who worried about a provision to tinker with Internet addresses and venture capitalists who feared the legislation would thwart the innovation of technology start-ups.
The opposition has been fueled by some of the most innovative pieces of the Internet — Twitter, Facebook, Reddit.com and even the I Can Haz Cheezburger? sites. “Looks like the Internet is winning a battle against some really bad potential law,” wrote Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, the online classified advertising site, in a blog post on Sunday.
Markham C. Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, whose members include Google and Yahoo, said Sunday that it was too soon to dismiss entirely the House or Senate versions of the antipiracy bills. “I think the White House statement is very strong and it helps, but, no, I don’t think it’s dead,” Mr. Erickson said by telephone from Washington. “We will continue to have to educate as many members as possible.”
He said it was still an open question whether his group would seek to kill the bills or push for major changes.
Several Internet companies, including AOL, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, endorse an alternative that seeks to punish foreign Web sites that engage in copyright infringement through international trade law. That bill is co-sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California. Last week, Mr. Issa said that his party’s leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, had assured him that the Stop Online Piracy Act would not come up for a vote until there was consensus. For technology companies, that holds out the promise of returning to the drawing board. For Hollywood and other media companies challenged by piracy, it defers the prospects of antipiracy legislation.
“We have a chance to reset the legislative table to find out what kind of legislation is needed,” Mr. Erickson said. “We have an opportunity to step back, recalibrate and understand what the problem is.”
Several prominent Web sites and start-ups that have been among the most vocal opposition to the bills say they will not let up on their online advocacy soon.
The comments by the administration’s chief technology officials was a sign that government officials were beginning to pay attention to the cries of concern from the technology industry about the bills’ ability to enable censorship and tamper with the livelihood of businesses on the Internet.
“It’s encouraging that we got this far against the odds, but it’s far from over,” said Erik Martin, the general manager of Reddit.com, a social news site that has generated some of the loudest criticism of the bills. “We’re all still pretty scared that this might pass in one form or another. It’s not a battle between Hollywood and tech, its people who get the Internet and those who don’t.”
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