The normally unbeatable team of Google and Facebook are in for a rude awakening on Capitol Hill tomorrow when a rare alliance of Hollywood, conservatives and Fortune 500 firms is expected to stick it to the internet giants over online piracy.
Congressional sources tell Whispers that the House Judiciary Committee is expected to push forward legislation opposed by Google and Facebook that would let the Justice Department take action to block U.S.-based Internet providers and search engines from working with non-U.S. websites linked to online piracy. The goal: Stopping sites from selling pirated American media like movies, music and computer software. [Vote: Is SOPA a form of censorship?]
New today in the fight, according to sources:
- Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is telling members that he has enough bipartisan votes to pass his Stop Online Piracy Act.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Coalition that supports the Smith legislation has grown by 50 in just the last few days, adding Chrysler, Under Armour, ESPN, and Minor League Baseball.
- The National Governors Association is planning to endorse the legislation.
- Conservative Tea Party leader Rep. Ben Quayle has just signed on as a co-sponsor.
Google and Facebook argue that the legislation amounts to Internet censorship, but sponsors say that it would only expand similar Justice Department efforts to stop the sale of bogus and fake merchandise.
The bill was in trouble until Smith made changes to limit the definition of websites being targeted. As a result, it is picking up a wave of endorsements. In addition to putting Justice in charge of internet piracy, the bill would allow companies who have had their copyright infringed to also court action against websites linked to piracy.
Google and Facebook—joined by eBay and Yahoo—favor another bill putting the U.S. International Trade Commission in charge of policing non-U.S. websites linked to online piracy. But critics say it wouldn't be as effective. [See our slide show in opinion: 5 Ways New Media Are Changing Politics.]
According to a letter to Congress today from the Chamber coalition: "Using the veil of sophisticated and well-designed websites, many of these online IP thieves pose as legitimate businesses, luring consumers to purchase fraudulent products. Some rogue sites even sell dangerous and defective goods that jeopardize the health and safety of American consumers who are deceived into purchasing consumer goods that are poorly constructed or even contaminated with dangerous toxins. Consumers also unwittingly put themselves at risk of identity theft and malicious computer viruses by visiting these sites." [See what would happen if we all acted like Congress.]
Internet piracy is also a jobs killer, said the Chamber. "The companies that are affected by this mass theft of intellectual property employ thousands of Americans and provide benefits to their families. Intellectual property rights exist for a reason, but are completely toothless without the proper enforcement," said Mark Elliot, executive vice president for the Chamber's Global IP Center.
A similar bill is awaiting a full Senate floor vote.