Silicon Valley vs. Hollywood ire boils up in Web blackout

Wikipedia, others fear Congress will enact measures that attack free and open Internet




Cantwell co-sponsors alternative to PIPA

Google, Wikipedia and other high-profile websites blacked out all or parts of their pages Wednesday, and Washingtonians flooded their Congressional delegates with requests to fight two pieces of legislation to crack down on Internet piracy.

So far, only one of the three women representing Southwest Washington has taken a stance on the issue.

Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell has come out against the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). She has co-sponsored an alternative piece of legislation called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade — or OPEN — Act. Cantwell said her proposal is a narrower approach to fighting online piracy sites while addressing the concerns of protesters against PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Democrat U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office told the Pacific Northwest Inlander that she has received pressure to support PIPA but that she remains undecided on the issue.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, did not provide a firm answer when asked about SOPA on Monday during an interview at The Columbian. She said she would need to do more research on the bill, but added that she has concerns about what it could mean for consumers and free enterprise.

U.S. senators are expected to vote on PIPA this month, and at least two senators who initially supported the proposal have come out against it.

On Twitter, many users posted tweets similar to this one: “I just contacted Sen. Patty Murray to oppose #SOPA/#PIPA - Join me!”

One Twitter user linked to the response letter he received from Cantwell’s office.

“On Nov. 17, 2011, I signed a letter along with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) objecting to (PIPA) as it is currently written,” the letter said. “I am deeply concerned that the definitions and the means by which the legislation seeks to accomplish these goals will have unintended consequences and hurt innovation, job creation, and threaten online speech and security.”

— Stevie Mathieu

LOS ANGELES — In a move that heightens the growing tension between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, Wikipedia and other websites went dark Wednesday in protest of two congressional proposals intended to thwart the online piracy of copyrighted movies and TV programs.

The web-based encyclopedia is part of a loose coalition of dot-coms and large technology companies that fear Congress is prepared to side with Hollywood and enact extreme measures — possibly including the blocking of entire websites— to stop the online sharing and unauthorized use of Hollywood productions.

The fight will test which California-based industry has the most sway in Washington.

For now, Silicon Valley appears to have the upper hand. Supporters of the legislation — called the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate — say the bills are aimed at protecting jobs in the movie and music industries. But a campaign including tech heavyweights such as Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. has successfully portrayed the bills as an attack on a free and open Internet.

“It has nothing to do with stolen songs or movies,” said Justin Ruben, executive director of, which is participating in the blackout. Ruben says tougher legislation — even directed overseas — could make domestic cultural commentators more prone to legal attack.

Rather than showing encyclopedia articles, Wikipedia displayed a blacked-out page describing the protest and offering more information

on the bills. Many articles were still viewable on cached pages. shut down its social news service for 12 hours. Other sites made their views clear without cutting off services. Google blacked out the logo on its home page, directing people to a page where they could add their names to a petition.

The one-day outage was timed to coincide with key House and Senate committee hearings as they prepare to send the bills to the full floor for debate.

However, sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, sought last week to remove a controversial provision from the House bill that could force Internet service providers to interfere with the way Web addresses work for foreign sites deemed dedicated to piracy. He postponed work on the measure until February.

Critics believe such tinkering with core Internet technology treads into dangerous territory that could lead to online censorship. It might also give hackers a new way to wreak havoc.

The White House raised concerns that the bills could stifle innovation. Over the weekend, the Obama administration reacted to two online petitions, saying it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

At the same time, the administration called on all sides to “pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders.”

That nuanced stance is President Barack Obama’s attempt at “threading the needle” between two important constituencies as he seeks re-election in November, said Jeffrey Silva, a technology policy analyst at Medley Global Advisors in Washington.

On the one hand, his administration has defended a free, open Internet as it watched repressive regimes fall in the Middle East with help from social media such as Twitter. It has also been a proponent of the concept of “net neutrality,” which prevents Internet service providers from slowing online traffic that comes from file-sharing sites known to trade in pirated content.

On the other hand, Obama and other Democrats have gone to Hollywood dozens of times to raise campaign funds over the years.