Google chair says he will fight website blocking legislation

June 2011


Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt has said that the internet search engine giant will oppose anti-piracy efforts on both sides of the pond in the USA and the United Kingdom. Schmidt singled out provisions in the USA’s PROTECT IP Bill and the Digital Economy Act in the U.K. where provisions could allow governments to block access to websites that host infringing content or sell counterfeit goods with Schmidt saying “If there is a law that requires DNSs [domain name systems] to do X and it’s passed by both houses of congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it.” Speaking at the company’s Big Tent conference in London he added “If it’s a request the answer is we wouldn’t do it, if it’s a discussion we wouldn’t do it.” The PROTECT IP bill is the movie, TV and music industry supported bill that would allow authorities to seek court orders to shut down websites offering unauthorized copyrighted content which expand current actions being taken by the Justice Dept. and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to seize the domains of websites offering copyrighted and counterfeit content.

The blogsphere took Schmidt’s comments as support for sites such as The Pirate Bay and Newzbin2 with Torrentfreak saying that both sites are at the very top of the domain-blocking wishlists of both the U.S. and UK, but neither of them are in ideal positions to mount legal challenges of their own.

Schimdt went on to compare the notion of website blocking with methods used by the Chinese to censor the Internet, cautioning that when those further east see that the west aren’t opposed to censorship when it comes to achieving their particular aims, it might only encourage further crackdowns saying “I would be very, very careful if I were a government about arbitrarily [implementing] simple solutions to complex problems,” Schmidt said. “So, ‘let’s whack off the DNS’. Okay, that seems like an appealing solution but it sets a very bad precedent because now another country will say ‘I don’t like free speech so I’ll whack off all those DNSs’ – that country would be China.”

In a follow-up statement to Schmidt’s comments, Google told CNET that, “Free expression is an issue we care deeply about, and we continue to work closely with Congress to make sure the Protect IP Act will target sites dedicated to piracy while protecting free expression and legitimate sites.”

Schmidt’s comments seem to have found some support and whilst the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the PRO IP Act, Senator Ron Wyden placed a “hold” on the proposed legislation, delaying further action saying “I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective”.

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