|Shootout at the digital corral
By: Jennifer Martinez
November 16, 2011 04:31 AM EST
|Hollywood’s in a showdown over its TV shows, movies and music with an up-and-coming opponent in the Washington arena: the Silicon Valleygang.And that can only mean a huge payday for lobbyists.According to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, the film, music and TV industries have spent more than $91 million on lobbying so far this year — an amount that puts them on pace to beat all of their previous spending records. Not to be outdone, Google and its tech cohorts — including eBay, Yahoo and Facebook — have been ramping up spending and are looking for a hired gun to lead their newly revamped coalition.
The focus of the faceoff: a pair of online copyright bills aimed at getting Internet companies to help shutter websites that profit from illicit copies of blockbuster films, TV shows and chart-topping songs.
On Wednesday, the Motion Picture Association of America and Google, among others, are expected to lock horns at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act. A companion bill in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, was reported out of committee this spring but is still waiting for floor time.
Both sides in the copyright debate are traditionally left-leaning constituencies but are being careful to target Republicans and Democrats with campaign cash and carefully spun messages.
“This is a jobs bill, and we’re happy to do our part to cut through the confusion, make the truth known and enable U.S. innovation, creativity and technical invention to continue to support U.S. job growth,” NBCUniversal general counsel Rick Cotton told POLITICO in a statement.
Internet companies say they are fighting to clarify the implications of the two bills.
“There is more to this issue than meets the eye. While we support targeted approaches to solving the problem of foreign rogue sites, some of these bills could truly hamper innovation on the Internet, so we are working hard to raise awareness of the potential for unintended consequences,” said Amber Allman, a Yahoo spokeswoman.
Several entertainment players are on track to beat their lobbying spending total for last year. That spending went toward lobbying on a range of issues, including communications, broadcasting, tax and trade, but copyright for many concerned has been front and center as both the House and the Senate consider bills.
Universal Music Group and Time Warner, for example, have upped lobbying spending so far this year by nearly 14 percent compared with the same time period a year ago. Lobbying spending in the first three quarters of 2011 for Broadcast Music Inc. and Sony Music Entertainment is up about 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Comcast, whose merger with NBCUniversal closed in January, has spent more than $14.7 million in the first three quarters of this year, up more than 68 percent than the same time period in 2010.
Meanwhile, two of the most iconic Hollywood lobbies in Washington — the Recording Industry Association of America and MPAA — have spent around $4.4 million and $1.3 million, respectively, on lobbying so far this year. MPAA brought on former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) to help lead the charge. RIAA, meanwhile, has as its top lobbyist Mitch Glazier, who served as the chief counsel for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property under then-Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.). Glazier helped craft and push the landmark 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act into law.
“This is either make it or break it for them,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation. “It’s not surprising that they’re spending more to push for these bills.”
The industry says it’s wrong to focus on the bottom line. “These kind of charges are brought up as a distraction from the real issue of content-protection laws that help preserve jobs,” MPAA spokesman Howard Gantman said in a statement.
“This is much more a policy debate than a battle of resources,” said Glazier. These glitzy lobbies are locked in a fierce battle on the Hill against Silicon Valley Web giants like Google, Facebook and Yahoo, which are seeking to block the bills that would hold them liable for policing some copyright violations online. While the Internet industry is still a relatively young member of K Street, it has become a powerful lobbying force in its own right — and the industry is in the market for a star lobbyist for its group, NetCoalition, to raise its volume even louder inside the Beltway.
“They might be the new kids on the block, but they’re learning the ropes quickly,” said Michael Beckel, spokesman for CRP.
Google wields the strongest lobbying muscle of the companies and trade groups that are opposed to the two bills, with the PROTECT IP Act and copyright listed among its top policy issues in disclosures.
Spending in Google’s Washington shop has exploded this year — largely to deflect criticism of its business practices as anticompetitive. With its lobbying spending already tallying about $7.2 million this year, the Mountain View, Calif., company has blown past last year’s total of about $5.2 million.
About a dozen of Google’s new outside lobby shop registrants this year were hired to lobby on copyright, patent and trademark issues, among other topics.
Google’s Silicon Valley peer, Yahoo, has also been engaged on the issue. Yahoo reportedly left the Chamber of Commerce this fall over its aggressive lobbying campaign for stricter IP legislation. It has spent more than $1.8 million on lobbying in 2011 on issues including online privacy, data security, patents and copyright.
Three trade associations that represent these Web giants have also been lobbying furiously behind the scenes: NetCoalition, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and the Consumer Electronics Association. All three trade groups have publicly hammered the legislative proposals and have flown big-name venture capitalists to Washington to discourage lawmakers from pushing forward.
But even the Internet industry realizes it’s a David vs. an entertainment Goliath, which dug its roots into Washington decades before Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were born.
“If you are a member of the Judiciary Committee, year after year after year, the content industry has been at your fundraisers over and over. They’ve gotten to know you, and they’ve talked to you and given their spiel,” said CCIA President Ed Black.
Michael Petricone, senior vice president of government affairs at the CEA, noted that the tech industry “doesn’t have dozens of lobbyists running around Washington trying to preserve their business models.”
Copyright protection is undoubtedly at the top of Hollywood’s list of legislative priorities.
Time Warner, News Corp., Comcast and Walt Disney have all lobbied for more stringent rules against the offspring of websites like Napster, LimeWire and Zediva that they say promote pirated content. But Hollywood also has a powerful ally on its side: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber has unleashed a full-court press for legislation against so-called rogue sites. It formed a coalition made up of a waterfront of Fortune 500 companies, trade groups and unions — ranging from Eli Lilly to Comcast to the AFL-CIO — that support this aim.
With the Chamber leading the charge, the entertainment industry doesn’t have to carry this battle on its own — in fact, the industry rejects the charge that this is a battle pitting Hollywood against Silicon Valley. So far, the industry’s biggest tech ally on the bills has been Go Daddy, an Internet domain name registrar and hosting company.
Both sides in the copyright showdown have traditionally favored Democrats in terms of political giving and issues. As perhaps a sign of the political times, both sectors have stepped up recruitment of Republican lobbyists and giving to GOP campaigns.
PACs for TV, movie and music companies have contributed more than $2.5 million to federal candidates so far in the 2012 election cycle, with Republicans receiving slightly more than Democrats this time around, according to CRP.
Computer and Internet industry PACs, meanwhile, have contributed around $1.7 million to 2012 federal candidates so far, with 55 percent of PAC money going to Republicans versus 45 percent to Democrats, CRP said.
In terms of hiring lobbyists, both sides are trying to be equal-opportunity employers. RIAA works with a smattering of GOP and Democratic lobbyists on copyright at The Glover Park Group; Ogilvy Government Relations and Fierce, Isakowitz and Blalock. Disney Vice President and counsel Troy Dow served as the IP counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under GOP leaders. Viacom has a former Democratic counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Marla Grossman, lobbying on copyright issues.
Google, meanwhile, has added Ryan Triplette, a Republican lobbyist for the Franklin Square Group and former Senate Judiciary Committee chief IP counsel, to lobby against the PROTECT IP Act. The deputy general counsel and vice president for global public policy at Yahoo, David Hantman, served as Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Schumer’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2007.
Tony Romm contributed to this report.
|© 2011 POLITICO LLC|
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