Schumer outlines flaws in online-piracy bill he co-sponsored, says it's mostly aimed at foreigners, not YouTube
10:46 am Jan. 18, 2012
As internet giants Google, Wikipedia, Tumblr and others launch a protest today against anti-piracy legislation in Washington that they say could lead to internet censorship, one of the bill's co-sponsors, Senator Chuck Schumer, said he hopes the bill can be tweaked to allow government officials and victims of intellectual-property theft to go "after the perpetrators without going after the medium."
Schumer made his comments to the Journal News during an editorial-board meeting that was, appropriately enough, streamed online.
Schumer said the legislation is dividing two industries that are prominent in New York: content providers, like television and movie studios and even book publishers, and internet companies that have helped boost New York's economy and are crucial to the city's aspiration to rival Silicon Valley one day as a tech capital.
"The content side correctly points out that piracy is hurting them badly," Schumer said.
The piracy the legislation is looking to curb is conducted "mainly by foreigners" he said, blaming the problem on Chinese and Bulgarian pirates, among others.
They "take these copyright materials and just steal them," Schumer said.
"Piracy is a real issue that costs New York a lot of jobs," Schumer said, before adding that he wanted to see "both sides to come together" and "work it through."
Schumer, whose office Senate office building in Manhattan is the site of a protest today by NY Tech Meetup, said a "thriving internet is vital" and that a solution should be found "without any censorship at all" and "without doing anything that would undermine the internet."
In explaining the concerns of big internet companies, Schumer used YouTube as an example, saying that if copyrighted material gets posted there, the fear is that the content provider—a company like, NBC, for example, could go after YouTube.
"That shouldn't happen," Schumer said.
The goal is to be "going after the perpetrator without going after the medium."
"I think the language that is in the bill can be significantly tightened up," he said.
In a later part of the editorial board meeting, Schumer was asked to explain what he would consider an acceptable compromise.
"My threshhold is there shouldn't be censorship and legitimate speech shouldn't be curtailed," he said.
When pressed about the penalties for copyright violators, Schumer said "there has to be due process and that's very clear." He said the provision in the legislation that would enable government officials to take down a website without "giving that website a chance to answer" is something "I would oppose vehemently."
Amending the bill may not satisfy some opponents.
"Our position has been that we believe the bill shouldn't exist at all," said Andrew Raisej, chairman of NY Tech Meetup, which organizes monthly meetings for established and emerging New York-based tech and online enterprises.
Raisej, who is an investor in and adviser to this website, told me, "If it's true that Gillibrand and Schumer are working to fix the bill, as we've been told, then our emergency New York Meetup should give them additional impetus to make the case with their colleagues in congress."
UPDATE: Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, who also co-sponsored the bill, emailed the following joint statement:
“There are two important issues in this debate: continued freedom of expression on the Internet and the ability to block online piracy. We believe that both sides can come together on a solution that satisfies their respective concerns.
“We’ve had many discussions and held many meetings with all parts of the Internet community – from users, to members of the NY Tech Meet-up, to start-ups, to big Internet firms like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo – to hear their concerns regarding this proposed legislation, and we'll continue those discussions.
“After constructive dialogue with many in the technology community, we have worked to make an important change in the bill regarding DNS provisions. We will continue to work with our colleagues to ensure a proper balance between stopping the theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement, and doing so without the unintended consequence of stifling or censoring the internet, which we strongly oppose. We have worked to make sure there are due process protections to ensure that legal activity over the Internet is not disrupted and that the web continues to be a place of innovation, intellectual freedom, and an unrestricted platform for the free exchange of ideas -- and we welcome additional suggestions. While the threat to tens of thousands of New York jobs due to online piracy is real and must be addressed, it must be done in a way that allows the Internet and our tech companies to continue to flourish.”