Google Rallies Opposition to Murdoch-Backed Anti-Piracy Bill

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Media
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Eric Engleman, Bloomberg News

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) — Internet companies led by Google Inc.  are using their online clout to stoke opposition to Hollywood-backed anti-piracy  measures in the U.S. Congress that they say will encourage censorship and chill  innovation.

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine,  placed a link on its home page today opposing the House and Senate bills,  joining protests by Wikipedia and other websites. Google had about 400 million  daily U.S. searches in December, according to Internet measurement firm comScore  Inc., dwarfing the 111 million viewers of last year’s Super Bowl game.

Public criticism led by Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.  slowed an initial “smooth glide to passage” for the anti- piracy measures  supported by the entertainment industry, Rogan Kersh, an associate dean at New  York University’s Wagner School who conducts research on lobbying, said in an  interview.

“Google and Facebook and Twitter are part of our daily lives  in a way that most of us find very appealing,” Kersh said. “These are sexy  brands. If you’re a member of Congress, you don’t want to be on the wrong side  of the social media and new media darlings of America.”

Google typically devotes its home page to displaying its own  services, not taking stands on legislation, and the “Google” icon is often used  to commemorate historical events. Today, the icon is covered by a black  rectangle, and the home page links to a website that asks visitors to sign an  online petition urging Congress to reject the legislation.

Wikipedia Shutdown

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia run by a nonprofit  organization where users contribute entries, is shutting the English version of  its website for 24 hours to protest the measures. Today, that page is blacked  out and carries a message saying that the bills “could fatally damage the free  and open Internet.”

Microsoft Corp., the world’s largest software maker, said in a  statement yesterday that it opposes the House measure as currently drafted. The  company said it doesn’t plan to shut down its online services in protest.

The Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act  in the Senate are backed by the movie and music industries as a means to crack  down on the sale of counterfeit goods by non-U.S. websites. Hollywood studios  want lawmakers to ensure that Internet companies such as Google share  responsibility for curbing the distribution of pirated material.

The so-called blackout day to protest anti-piracy legislation  is “abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace  today,” Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America,  said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

‘Incite Their Users’

“It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms  that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite  their users in order to further their corporate interests,” said Dodd, a  Connecticut Democrat who served three decades in the Senate.

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch called Google a “piracy  leader” in a Jan. 14 post on Twitter, saying that it streams movies for free and  sells advertisements around them. A day later he wrote in his Twitter account  that Google is a “great company doing many exciting things. Only one complaint,  and it’s important.”

Miranda Higham, a News Corp. spokeswoman, declined to  comment.

Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, said the company  respects copyright. “Last year we took down 5 million infringing Web pages from  our search results,” she said in an e-mail yesterday.

‘Radioactive Brand’

Murdoch represents a “radioactive” brand and his comments are  “terrible timing” for supporters of the anti-piracy legislation, Kersh of New  York University said.

“As supervisor of a media empire that is best known at present  for hacking into people’s personal phone accounts, this is not someone you want  arguing for more government involvement in the lives of the public,” Kersh  said.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote Jan. 24 to  see whether there is enough support to begin debate on its version of the  legislation bill.

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