White House officials raised concerns on Saturday about online piracy legislation pending in Congress that Google and Facebook have decried as heavy-handed and Hollywood studios and music labels say is needed to save US jobs.
In a blog posting, three advisers to US President Barack Obama said they believed the proposed Stop Online Piracy act (SOPA) and other bills could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.
“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” said the officials, including White House cybersecurity coordinator Howard Schmidt.
The House of Representatives’ SOPA bill aims to crackdown on online sales of pirated US movies, music or other goods by forcing Internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material that violates US copyright laws.
US advertising networks could also be required to stop online ads and search engines would be barred from directly linking to Web sites found to be distributing pirated goods.
The search engine Google has repeatedly said the bill goes too far and could hurt investment. Along with other Internet firms such as Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, it has run advertisements in major newspapers urging Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.
Proponents of stricter piracy rules reacted strongly to Saturday’s White House statement, which darkened prospects for legislation already expected to struggle to clear Congress in an election year.
“It is not censorship to enforce the law against foreign thieves,” said Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
He estimated intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying US jobs and account for more than 60 percent of US exports.
“Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while some of America’s most profitable and productive industries are under attack,” he said in a statement responding to the White House.
Smith, in an interview on Thursday, had vowed to press ahead with the bill in spite of criticism from Google and others and said he thought it would pass the House, where Republicans have a majority.
The US Chamber of Commerce said it strongly supported the House legislation as well as the “Protect IP act” in the Democrat-controlled Senate, calling both “narrowly targeted bills designed to target the worst of the worst offenders.”
“Given the broad consensus that this issue needs to be addressed, it is time to come together and adopt strong legislation that ends the ability of foreign criminals to prey on innocent consumers and steal American jobs,” it said.
The Motion Picture Association of America said while the White House statement raised significant points, “protecting American jobs is important too, particularly in these difficult economic times for our nation.”
And the Recording Industry Association of America, noting that the US is the world’s top exporter of creative works, said it was intolerable for Internet companies to be allowed “to direct law-abiding consumers to unlawful and dangerous sites.”
“Hyperbole, hysteria and hypotheticals cannot change the fact that stealing is wrong, costing jobs and must be contained,” it said.
Schmidt and the other advisers said the Obama administration was ready to work with lawmakers on a narrower, more targeted approach to online piracy to ensure that legitimate businesses — including start-up firms — would not be harmed.