Who backs the anti-piracy laws?
- 18 January 2012
- From the section US & Canada
Who supports the anti-online piracy bills in the US Congress, and why?
The two anti-piracy bills being debated in the US Congress have the backing of some of the largest film, television, music recording and book publishing companies and trade associations in the US.
The companies say their industries are under threat from online piracy, and they have turned to the US Congress for protection.
The bill's backers hope the measures in the legislation will stem the tide of piracy.
"It's a non-market strategy for making money," said Scott Ainsworth, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who has studied lobbying.
"Think about a firm that says we can make better widgets and that will make us money, or we can lobby to protect the widgets that we produce from competition, and that will make us money."
The recording industry is one of the most glaring examples of a business stung by illegal online downloading.
In 2010 - after more than a decade of widespread online piracy - retail music sales declined 11% from the year before.
How do the companies go about influencing Congress?
In part, by spending heaps of cash lobbying the US Congress for legislation to enact laws that would punish repeat copyright offenders and bar US-based internet service providers, payment processors and advertisers from doing business with alleged infringers.
Television, film and recording industry companies and trade associations spent $92m (£60m) on lobbying expenses in 2011, including on the online piracy and copyright protection issues, according to an analysis of lobbying disclosure forms by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The companies and associations employed 596 lobbyists last year.
It is not possible to break down figures spent lobbying specifically on the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa) anti-piracy bills. But the sheer amount indicates the companies and associations were keen to maintain access to the members of Congress and their staffs.
Sopa is currently being debated by the House Judiciary Committee, and Pipa is to be voted on by the Senate later this month.
Who are the lobbyists, and what do they do?
In what is frequently derided as Washington's revolving door, many lobbyists and industry advocates in Washington are former members of Congress or held roles as congressional staff.
Some of those worked on the very congressional committees they now hope to influence.
For instance, one of the chief lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), senior executive vice-president Mitch Glazier, is former chief counsel for intellectual property on the House Judiciary Committee.
That committee is currently debating the Sopa legislation. Its chairman is Sopa's chief sponsor, Republican Lamar Smith of Texas.
The Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood's primary advocate in Washington, is led by former Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.
"The movie industry has a terrific amount of access and good will on both sides of the aisle," said Frank Baumgartner, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who studies lobbying.
"Everyone loves Hollywood, it's a major American source of jobs. They just have a wonderful reputation in Washington."
In meetings with congressmen, senators and their staffs, the lobbyists will recommend provisions they want to see passed into law, and even offer draft legislation written by industry lawyers.
"The term on Capitol Hill is 'we need some language on this'," said Prof Ainsworth.
How do lobbyists win lawmakers to their side?
Communication between lobbyists and lawmakers is not typically made public, but it's a safe bet lobbyists will tout the number of people employed in a particular congressman's district and the economic contribution there.
The US film and sound recording industries employed about 374,000 people in 2010, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service prepared for Democratic Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
For its part, the MPAA says the television and film industries employ 2.2 million people in all 50 states and paid more than $137bn in wages in 2009.
In addition, lobbyists in Washington help lawmakers raise money for their re-election campaigns - and often contribute directly.
For instance, since 1997, the MPAA's campaign finance wing has contributed more than $775,000 to congressional campaigns and political action committees, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission.
Mr Glazier, the RIAA lobbyist, has personally donated more than $40,000 since 2000.