Critics of Current Legislation Have Been Wrong in the Past about Content Protection Law
Author:  Paul Hortenstine
Date:  11/03/2011

Yesterday, Variety reported that Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro, who is criticizing current rogue websites legislation, has a history of criticizing content protection law that has created the internet as we know it.

The PROTECT IP Act (S.968) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) in the House have bipartisan support and will preserve American jobs and target foreign websites that steal and profit from counterfeit goods and stolen creative content like books and movies and music.

Recently, Shapiro has made many false claims about the legislation, including that it will “allow any copyright owner to shut down a legitimate retail website, such as Amazon…”   Unfortunately, this kind of sky is falling rhetoric is not surprising. 

In 2005, after the Supreme Court ruled on the Grokster vs. MGM case, Shapiro said it “makes it difficult for a new product or technology to garner the funding necessary to come to market.   ‘Before developing a product in the Post-Grokster environment, an innovator or entrepreneur will have to persuade everyone--from outside bankers to inside counsel - that it can be sold without risk of a lawsuit. Venture capital migrates away from risky, litigation-prone areas.’” 

As we know, numerous innovative products have been produced since 2005 and the internet has expanded the availability of movies and music.  Just last month, Apple reported that 16 billion iTunes songs have been downloaded and 300 million IPods have been sold.

Shapiro also opposed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 after it was passed, calling it “a huge mistake.”   The DMCA has been recognized as the “law that saved the web.”

And he’s not the only who has proclaimed that content protection law will end the internet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has stated that the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) will “break the internet.”   In 2008, EFF called the PRO-IP act “harmful.”   But after the PRO-IP Act became law in October 2008, innovation has flourished, including film and TV content that is now available through all of the major mobile phone and mobile devices. Back in 2005, the group held that the Grokster ruling would “chill innovation and retard the entire sector.” 

Another group, Public Knowledge, has called the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R.3261) “draconian.”  They also claimed that the 2005 Grokster ruling would be “very harmful to consumers and our economy.” 

Venture capitalists are also getting in on the sky is falling rhetoric, claiming that the PROTECT IP Act (S.968) will “stifle investment in Internet services, throttle innovation, and hurt American competitiveness.”

But the venture capital community also has a history of criticizing content protection law.  For example, in 2005, the National Venture Capital Association said that the Grokster ruling “would have a devastating impact on the development of legitimate and valuable new products and services for consumers.” 

So when you hear Gary Shapiro and others proclaiming that the current legislation will be the end of the internet just remember that they’ve been wrong before and they’re wrong again this time.