Earlier today, Amanda Peyton (Y Combinator alum, Makery/Bnter resident and local Woman About Tech) posted a transcript of a conversation she had with a rep for Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) who used “the c-word” in reference to the Protect IP Act, the Senate version of the Stop Online Piracy Act. “Censorship,” that is.
Both Ms. Peyton and Betabeat (we picked up the story) received calls from energetic staffers, eager to run, not just walk, the quote back. “It is absurd to suggest that Sen. Schumer, who led the charge against the assault on net neutrality, would support censoring the Internet; he unequivocally does not,” said Mike Morey, a spokesman for Sen. Schumer’s office.
Staffers from Sen. Schumer’s office got on the phone with Betabeat late Friday to go into more detail on the senator’s position on the bill, which they said had first been presented by a coalition of representatives from different industries more than a year ago. The industries represented including pharmaceutical companies, apparel manufacturers and more, in addition to the purveyors of movies and music who have emerged as the evil villains in the internet’s backlash against the legislation.
The bill is also targeting counterfeiters and fake drug makers, the senator’s office said, and will allow companies whose intellectual property is being infringed to sue websites and have courts take action—essentially making something that is already illegal, also enforceable. The senator believes that legal activity on the internet should be “inviolate,” staffers said, but illegal activity should not.
During the markup of PIPA, staffers said, there was no outcry from the tech industry beyond tempered concern. It was only after the House version, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was farther reaching, that opponents’ voices began rising. UPDATE: Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures disputed this in the comments. “Our firm and others were very vocal with the Senator and his staff as early as the middle of last year,” he wrote, “that this was bad legislation and that the tech industry was going to fight it and fight it hard.”
Part of SOPA and PIPA’s problem is the perception that the bills are being written by older, out of touch Congressmen and women who don’t spend much time with the internet and don’t really understand how it works, a la the late Senator Ted Stevens and his famous “series of tubes” remark.
For the record, at least one staffer we spoke to in Sen. Schumer’s office had a firm handle on the technicalities of the bill, including the provisions that would allow IP owners to ask a court to order Internet Service Providers and search engines to block certain sites, arguably the two most controversial aspects of the bill.
Now that more people in the tech industry are speaking out against the bill, the senator is carefully considering his position, his office said. He does not 100 percent support the bill as written, his office said, and is taking more time to research its effects and talk to interested parties in order to ensure the bill does not have unintended consequences.
According to staffers, the senator wants to be sure that sites like Twitter and Facebook (and hi, Tumblr, hey, Reddit) which may have infringing content, but are not primarily in the business of selling illegal stuff, are not harmed. The bill is supposed to target websites that exist mainly to traffic in counterfeited or pirated goods or content, allowing IP owners to sue a website and potentially earn a temporary or permanent shutdown, depending on standards they must meet before the court, with the ability to target enablers like ad networks, payment providers, and as it now stands, search engines and ISPs.
(Homepage image credit: dpape)