Motion Picture Association of America President Chris Dodd took aim at critics of the Stop Online Piracy and PROTECT IP Acts Tuesday in a speech to the Center for America Progress, saying studios were pro-Internet and opposed foreign governments that block Web sites unilaterally.
Dodd also tried to bind up the wounds between California's North and South, saying Silicon Valley and Hollywood are in this together, and that protecting content is in both their interests.
Those bills are targeted at shutting down foreign-based Web sites delivering infringing content -- like pirated TV shows and movies -- to U.S. Internet users, though critics argue they are overly broad and give the Justice Department and industry too much power and that Internet freedom and non-infringing U.S. sites could be entangled in that legislative net.
"Contrary to piracy apologists, the operators of these fraudulent sites aren't overzealous film buffs or political activists making a statement about freedom of information," said Dodd, mincing no words. "They are criminals, plain and simple: they don't innovate, they don't adhere to manufacturing standards, and they certainly don't pay taxes on the proceeds from their scams."
Opponents of those bills, which include consumer electronics companies, a number of Web sites including Google, Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups, have been strongly critical of the bills, saying they threatened Internet speech and lacked sufficient due process. The rhetoric has gotten heated, with suggestions that bill supporters would be killing the Internet.
Dodd, a former Democratic Senator from Connecticut, likened the climate to fights for healthcare and financial reform. "Without the vigilance and determination of this organization and others in challenging misinformation, health care reform may well have been defeated by lies about -- death panels, and Wall Street reform derailed by those who accused Barney Frank and I of undermining the financial sector."
Dodd said the studios, which he pointed out included 95,000 businesses rather than simply a handful of big players -- were not out to fight new technology or protect an outmoded business model. He called it fundamentally a fight for jobs, and not star salaries but the $55,000 average pay for a generally unionized TV and film worker, as wel; as the "local lumber yard supplying the material, catering company feeding the cast and crew and car dealership providing the vehicles."
While the battle over the piracy legislation has divided somewhat along a California north/south line between Hollywood and Web-centric Northern California, Dodd said Hollywood and Silicon Valley are in it together. "Asking anyone to make a choice -- one over the other -- is lunacy. We need each other. But the underlying driver of our shared success is content. Even online distribution platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube -- acknowledged game-changers in the way we view video online -- are producing their own shows and movies. Simply put, it doesn't matter how great a piece of technology you have invented, or how innovative a distribution platform you have created. You must have content."
Dodd said it was "reprehensible" to compare the shutting down rogue Web sites to repressive Internet policies of foreign governments. "It's an outrageous and false comparison."
Dodd's speech came two days before the House Judiciary Committee plans to mark up SOPA, whose sponsor, Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), has just circulated a revised version he says addresses some of its critics concerns.
It also came on the same day Smith was talking at a piracy event on Capitol Hill, and some Web site backers were preparing a march from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Google headquarters to deliver petitions asking that company to exit the chamber over the bills, which the chamber supports.